The Bombay High Court on Thursday asked the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) and Reliance Infrastructure (RInfra) to suggest names of arbitrators in the dispute over the Metro rail fare by June 24 and reserved its order on the matter till then.
RInfra and the rail operator, Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd (MMOPL), have justified charging fares between Rs10 and Rs40 on the newly-opened Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar line and this has been contested by MMRDA which holds a 26 per cent stake in the rail company.
JM Bhat, counsel for MMOPL, argued that the fares are not decided by any agreement but are to be fixed by the fare fixation committee (FFC). Till FFC fixes the fare MMOPL is entitled to charge fares to recover operational costs.
Bhat said FFC would look into the expenses and then fix the fares. "If FFC finds there has been more profit, the fares would be reduced. Also, if FFC finds that commuters are undercharged, the fares would be increased," he said.
EP Bharucha and Birendra Saraf, counsels for MMRDA, argued that in that case the fares could continue as set out in the agreements of 2004 and 2007. According to MMRDA's petition, the consortium had agreed to a fare structure of Rs9 (up to 3km), Rs11 (3 to 8km) and Rs13 (more than 8km).
Bhat explained that the Metro was started in the larger public interest, to decongest traffic on the east-west stretch.
Earlier, a commuter travelling from Andheri to Ghatkopar, took the bus or an autorickshaw to Andheri station, then the train on the Western Railway to Dadar and changed to the Central Railway to reach Ghatkopar. This would take about an hour and a half.
Travelling by bus from Andheri to Ghatkopar could take about three hours and cost Rs25. The cost to travel by autorickshaw or taxi direct would be much more. Now, the commuter would have to pay Rs40 to travel the distance in just 40 minutes. "No one is complaining," said Bhat.
Bhat said that with the lower promotional fares, the operator was not able to recover even the operational costs.
RInfra's position is that "the initial fare has been fixed and notified as Rs10, Rs20, Rs30 and Rs40 under section 33 of the Central Metro Act 2002. As per the Central government's directive, MMOPL is the Metro Railway Administration (MRA) and the fare for the Mumbai Metro is to be fixed afresh by MMOPL.."
MMRDA moved the high court on June 9, with an arbitration petition, challenging the fares set by its project partner RInfra.