04 March, 2021

Populism To Kill The Best

The fuss over Delhi Metro’s fare hike is a test case of how to run such fast-spreading networks

Rajiv Chowk station in central Delhi’s Connaught Place
Photograph by Alamy
Populism To Kill The Best

The 2.6 million-odd daily comm­uters travelling on Delhi ­Metro, by far an efficient system, have had little to gripe about the swanky network. ­People marvel at the sight of its sleek trains snaking around the city. The love affair seems soured of late, with the network’s dec­ision this May to raise fares—the first time in eight years.

Political parties and the Delhi government are in up arms. Commuters too are fretting over the hike in a country where populist politics ensures public utilities are priced rock-bottom low. How low? One yardstick is whether a utility—anything from power to water supply—is all­owed to generate enough revenue to recover maintenance costs, if not the upfront capital cost of setting it up. (Even subsidy-supporting economists now agree on the need to realise the upkeep costs from consumers, if not the latter.)

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, which is the public firm that runs the system, therefore, finds itself in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. If the...

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