Recently, the Indian Railways announced rationalisation of freight fares. This rationalisation will result in an 8.75% increase in freight rates for major commodities such as coal, iron and steel, iron ore, and raw materials for steel plants. The freight rates were rationalised to ensure additional revenue generation across the network. An additional revenue of Rs 3,344 crore is expected from such rationalisation, which will be utilised to improve passenger amenities. In addition, the haulage charge of containers has been increased by 5% and the freight rates of other small goods have been increased by 8.75%. Freight rates have not been increased for goods such as food grains, flours, pulses, fertilisers, salt, and sugar, cement, petroleum, and diesel. In light of this, we discuss some issues around Railways’ freight pricing.
Railways’ sources of internal revenue
Railways earns its internal revenue primarily from passenger and freight traffic. In 2016-17 (latest actual figures available), freight and passenger traffic contributed to about 63% and 28% of the internal revenue, respectively. The remaining is earned from miscellaneous sources such as parcel service, coaching receipts, and platform tickets.
Freight traffic: Railways majorly transports bulk freight, and the freight basket has mostly been limited to include raw materials for certain industries such as power plants, and iron and steel plants. It generates most of its freight revenue from the transportation of coal (43%), followed by cement (8%), food-grains (7%), and iron and steel (7%). In 2018-19, Railways expects to earn Rs 1,21,950 crore from its freight traffic.
Passenger traffic: Passenger traffic is broadly divided into two categories: suburban and non-suburban traffic. Suburban trains are passenger trains that cover short distances of up to 150 km, and help move passengers within cities and suburbs. Majority of the passenger revenue (94% in 2017-18) comes from the non-suburban traffic (or the long-distance trains).
Within non-suburban traffic, second class (includes sleeper class) contributes to 67% of the non-suburban revenue. AC class (includes AC 3-tier, AC Chair Car and AC sleeper) contributes to 32% of the non-suburban revenue. The remaining 1% comes from AC First Class (includes Executive class and First Class).
Railways’ ability to generate its own revenue has been slowing
The growth rate of Railways’ earnings from its core business of running freight and passenger trains has been declining. This is due to a decline in the growth of both freight and passenger traffic. Some of the reasons for such decline include:
Freight traffic growth has been declining, and is limited to a few items
Growth of freight traffic has been declining over the last few years. It has declined from around 8% in the mid-2000s to a 4% negative growth in mid-2010s, before an estimated recovery to about 5% now.
The National Transport Development Policy Committee (2014) had noted various issues with freight transportation on railways. For example, Indian Railways does not have an institutional arrangement to attract and aggregate traffic of smaller parcel size. Further, freight services are run with a focus on efficiency instead of customer satisfaction. Consequently, it has not been able to capture high potential markets such as FMCGs, hazardous materials, or automobiles and containerised cargo. Most of such freight is transported by roads.
The freight basket is also limited to a few commodities, most of which are bulk in nature. For example, coal contributes to about 43% of freight revenue and 25% of the total internal revenue. Therefore, any shift in transport patterns of any of these bulk commodities could affect Railways’ finances significantly.
For example, if new coal based power plants are set up at pit heads (source of coal), then the need for transporting coal through Railways would decrease. If India’s coal usage decreases due to a shift to more non-renewable sources of energy, it will reduce the amount of coal being transported. Such situations could have a significant adverse impact on Railways’ revenue.
Freight traffic cross-subsidises passenger traffic
In 2014-15, while Railways’ freight business made a profit of about Rs 44,500 crore, its passenger business incurred a net loss of about Rs 33,000 crore.17 The total passenger revenue during this period was Rs 49,000 crore. This implies that losses in the passenger business are about 67% of its revenue. Therefore, in 2014-15, for every one rupee earned in its passenger business, Indian Railways ended up spending Rs 1.67.
These losses occur across both suburban and non-suburban operations, and are primarily caused due to: (i) passenger fares being lower than the costs, and (ii) concessions to various categories of passengers. According to the NITI Aayog (2016), about 77% to 80% of these losses are contributed by non-suburban operations (long-distance trains). Concessions to various categories of passengers contribute to about 4% of these losses, and the remaining (73-76%) is due to fares being lower than the system costs.
The NITI Aayog (2016) had noted that Railways ends up using profits from its freight business to provide for such losses in the passenger segment, and also to manage its overall financial situation. Such cross-subsidisation has resulted in high freight tariffs. The NTDPC (2014) had noted that, in several countries, passenger fares are either higher or almost equal as freight rates. However, in India, the ratio of passenger fare to freight rate is about 0.3.
Impact of increasing freight rates
The recent freight rationalisation further increases the freight rates for certain key commodities by 8.75%, with an intention to improve passenger amenities. Higher freight tariffs could be counter-productive towards growth of traffic in the segment. The NTDPC report had noted that due to such high tariffs, freight traffic has been moving to other modes of transport. Further, the higher cost of freight segment is eventually passed on to the common public in the form of increased costs of electricity, steel, etc. Various experts have recommended that Railways should consider ways to rationalise freight and passenger tariff distortions in a way to reduce such cross-subsidisation.
Yesterday, the Governor of Karnataka promulgated the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022. The Ordinance prohibits forced religious conversions. A Bill with the same provisions as the Ordinance was passed by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in December 2021. The Bill was pending introduction in the Legislative Council.
In the recent past, Haryana (2022), Madhya Pradesh (2021), and Uttar Pradesh (2021) have passed laws regulating religious conversions. In this blog post, we discuss the key provisions of the Karnataka Ordinance and compare it with existing laws in other states (Table 2).
What religious conversions does the Karnataka Ordinance prohibit?
The Ordinance prohibits forced religious conversions through misrepresentation, coercion, allurement, fraud, or the promise of marriage. Any person who converts another person unlawfully will be penalised, and all offences will be cognizable and non-bailable. Penalties for attempting to forcibly convert someone are highlighted in Table 1. If an institution (such as an orphanage, old age home, or NGO) violates the provisions of the Ordinance, the persons in charge of the institution will be punished as per the provisions in Table 1.
Table 1: Penalties for forced conversion
Fine (in Rs)
Any person through specified means
Minor, woman, SC/ST, or a person of unsound mind
Two or more persons (Mass conversion)
Sources: Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022; PRS.
Re-converting to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion under the Ordinance. Further, any marriage done for the sole purpose of an unlawful conversion will be prohibited, unless the procedure for religious conversion is followed.
How may one convert their religion?
As per the Ordinance, a person intending to convert their religion is required to send a declaration to the District Magistrate (DM), before and after a conversion ceremony takes place. The pre-conversion declaration must be submitted by both parties (the person converting their religion, and the religious converter), at least 30 days in advance. The Ordinance prescribes penalties for both parties for failing to follow procedure.
After receiving the pre-conversion declarations, the DM will notify the proposed religious conversion in public, and invite objections to the proposed conversion for a period of 30 days. Once a public objection is recorded, the DM will order an enquiry to prove the cause, purpose, and genuine intent of the conversion. If the enquiry finds that an offence has been committed, the DM may initiate criminal action against the convertor. A similar procedure is specified for a post-conversion declaration (by the converted person).
Note that among other states, only Uttar Pradesh requires a post-conversion declaration and a pre-conversion declaration.
After the religious conversion has taken place, the converted person must submit a post-conversion declaration to the DM, within 30 days of the conversion. Further, the converted person must also appear before the DM to confirm their identity and the contents of the declaration. If no complaints are received during this time, the DM will notify the conversion, and inform concerned authorities (employer, officials of various government departments, local government bodies, and heads of educational institutions).
Who may file a complaint?
Similar to laws in other states, any person who has been unlawfully converted, or a person associated to them by blood, marriage, or adoption may file a complaint against an unlawful conversion. Laws in Haryana and Madhya Pradesh allow certain people (those related by blood, adoption, custodianship, or marriage) to file complaints, after seeking permission from the Court. Note that the Karnataka Ordinance allows colleagues (or any associated person) to file a complaint against an unlawful conversion.
*In Chirag Singhvi v. State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan High Court framed guidelines to regulate religious conversions in the state.