New Delhi: Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Saturday rejected reports that Delhi Metro lost over three lakh commuters every day after a steep fare hike came into effect in October, saying not only fares but other factors were also responsible for the ridership decline and that there is no hand of the Centre in it.
"Is there any relationship between the fare and the ridership numbers? Fares are one of the factors but there could be several others," Puri said in a statement reacting to reports that the recent fare hike was responsible for the decline in ridership quoting an RTI reply.
Giving an example of 2016, the Minister said "there was a ridership dip by 1.3 lakhs from September to October in spite of no change in fare structure."
"There are month-to-month variations also throughout the year and, therefore, the fluctuation in ridership cannot be solely contributed to increase in fare."
Puri said the daily ridership on date immediately after the fare hike on October 10 was actually higher than prior to the fare hike.
"On previous occasions also, there was temporary dip in ridership which recovered shortly. The ridership in November 2017 has shown a rising trend," the Minister said.
"Those who understand the precepts of public infrastructure creation will also understand that if a world-class infrastructure like the Delhi Metro has to be run efficiently as it is being run today, then its long term liabilities in terms of loan repayment and asset replacement needs to be discharged timely.
"Metro is a capital intensive project. DMRC has a loan from JICA of Rs 28,268 crores. So far they have only paid Rs 1,507 crores. For the current year, they have to pay Rs 890 crores towards principal and interest liability.
DMRC was established in 1995. For the last eight years there was no increase in fares," Puri said.
The Delhi Metro's daily average ridership came down to 24.2 lakh in October from 27.4 lakh in September, translating to a fall of around 11 per cent.
The Blue Line, a 50-km corridor connecting Dwarka to Noida considered the metro's busiest, lost over 30 lakh commuters, according to data shared by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). The metro currently has 218-km network across Delhi-NCR.
As per the DMRC, the fall, in terms of absolute numbers, was over 19 lakh on the Yellow Line, another busy corridor which connects Gurgaon to north Delhi's Samaypur Badli. Ridership has come down several notches below the numbers observed in recent years, bucking a trend of rise on the back of launch of newer sections.
The Minister claimed that the central government was not responsible for the fare hike.
"Several news outlets have suggested that the increase in fares of the Delhi Metro in may and October 2017 have led to a steep decline in ridership. Based on partial information, they have sought to produce a false narrative suggesting that the Delhi government wanted to postpone the tariff hike and it is the central government which was keen on the tariff hike.
"What are the facts? It is neither the central government nor the state government which determine the fare structure of the Delhi Metro. If that were to be the case, changes in fare would be determined by governments succumbing to the temptation of pleasing consumers," Puri said.
"If you were to make the Metro totally free, would you be able to run it or even to make the consumer happy?," he said.
"It was precisely to guard against misguided actions that a special purpose vehicle (DMRC) was created and a statutory body (Fare Fixation Committee) under an act of parliament was created for fare fixation. This committee headed by a retired judge of Delhi High Court with two other members, one each from the state and the central government had recommended the revised fares which had to be implemented by law," the Minister added.