Almost four crore senior citizens have been forced to pay full fare for their travel since the railways suspended their concessions due to the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, a RTI has revealed.
In a reply to a query filed by Madhya Pradesh-based Chandra Shekhar Gaur, the railways has stated that between March 22, 2020 and September 2021, 37,850,668 senior citizens have undertaken journeys on trains.
During this period, train services remained suspended for several months due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown. The concessions, which were suspended from March 2020, have remained suspended to this day.
In the case of senior citizens, while women are eligible for 50 per cent concession, men can avail 40 per cent in all classes. The minimum age limit for a woman is 58 and a man is 60.
Over the last two decades, railway concessions have been a much-discussed topic with multiple committees recommending their withdrawal. As a result of this in July 2016, the railways made elderly concession optional while booking tickets.
In July 2017, the railways enabled the elderly to even give up their partial or full concession through the “give it up” scheme.
“The thing is that the concession given to us was significant and is a huge help for those that cannot afford it. Senior citizens in many homes are treated as an extra, with no income of their own. These concessions helped them to get around.
“Those who can have given up their concessions also. With regular train services running, at least the senior citizen concessions should be restored. Most elderly cannot afford to pay full fares,” said Tapas Bhattacharya, a retired private sector employee, who is travelling to Kolkata with his wife, also a senior citizen, next week said.
In a letter last month, Madurai MP Su Venkatesan appealed to the Union railway minister to restore passenger concessions for their railway journeys stating that it was necessary for the elderly in a country where 20 per cent live below the poverty line.
“My parents haven’t seen their grandchildren for more than two years. This year also they didn’t come as they cannot afford the tickets without concessions. It is also too much for me to pay. They used to come every year to Delhi and spent six months here,” said Subhash Singh, a security guard working in a highrise in Noida, whose parents are both senior citizens and stay in Bihar.
In fact, according to a CAG report of 2019, the response to the ‘give it up’ scheme from the senior citizen passengers was not very encouraging. The report said that out of total 4.41 crore senior citizen passengers, 7.53 lakh (1.7 per cent) passengers opted to give up 50 per cent concession and 10.9 lakh (2.47 per cent) passengers gave up 100 per cent concession.
The railways, over the past ten days, have restored some of its services that it suspended in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. This includes the removal of the “special” tag from trains which brought down the prices of tickets and restarted the service of serving hot cooked meals.
However, the decision on restoring concessions and providing bedrolls is still pending.