A division bench of justices Abhay Oka and AS Chandurkar refused to grant interim stay observing that it was a policy decision by the government and that the high court cannot interfere with it. "Considering that it (fare hike) is a policy decision, this court cannot interfere by granting interim relief," observed the judges.
The HC was hearing a public interest litigation filed by NGO, Mumbai Grahak Panchayat seeking revocation of the exorbitant fare hike and setting up of a Railway Fare Authority to review the fare hikes.
Apart from NGO, Mumbai Grahak Panchayat (MGP), which has been fighting for protection of consumers rights, former journalist Ketan Tirodkar had knocked the doors of the HC on Monday against the fare hike.
On June 20, the central government had announced that the fares for the train commute would be hiked substantially to recover the losses. The worst hit have been those commuting on suburban railways, where the prices have been hiked by nearly 100%.
Uday Warunjikar, counsel for the NGO, admitted that the central government has the right to hike fares, however, he argued that such right should not be exercised indiscriminately. "I am not disputing the government's power but why are they doing this by giving such short notice? Power has to be used in a reasonable manner," argued Warunjikar. He further argued that the railways' statement was contrary to its fare hike rates. The press note issued by the railways on June 20 said they were calculating the new fares considering 30 single journeys as against 15 journeys, as was used to calculate fare earlier. "By this statement the maximum fare hike should be 100%. However, the rate chart shows that there are instances where the rates have been hiked by 186%, " he added.
He NGO sought stay on the hike till the debate takes place in the Parliament next week.
However the counsel for the railways, Subodh Kumar, argued that they (railways) do not require Parliament's consent as per the order of the deputy speaker in September 1974. The judes remarked that in case the petition succeeds then the commuters could produce the railway ticket and demand return of additional fares collected in the interim period. However, no order has been passed to the effect.
Refusing to grant interim stay, the judges have kept the PILs for final hearing on July 3