New Delhi: Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Saturday claimed that the dip in the Delhi Metro’s ridership, according to an RTI reply, cannot be linked to the fare hike effected in October, which it said was necessary for maintaining “efficiency".

The union minister of state (independent charge) for housing and urban affairs told reporters in New Delhi that despite the increase, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s (DMRC) fares were among the “lowest in the world" and the “lowest in India".

“The fare hike has not led to a decline in metro ridership. For example, in 2016, there was a ridership dip by 1.3 lakh from September to October when there was no change in fares," he said. His comments came hours after Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who has been opposing the fare hike, tweeted: “This steep hike in metro fare will kill Delhi Metro. If people stop using it, then what purpose does it serve?"

Puri said that every year, there are a few months that see an increase in ridership and a decline is observed in the others. The ridership after the fare revision for many days was actually higher than the ridership on some days before it was revised, he said. “On previous occasions of fare increase, there were at times temporary dip in ridership which recovered shortly. Ridership in November has shown a rising trend," the union minister said.

However, according to the DMRC’s records, the fall in October was the steepest ever. The metro has been logging a daily average ridership between 27 lakh and 28 lakh over the recent years, with minor variations. Till May, the Delhi Metro transported around 28 lakh passengers daily. But, after the first phase of the hike in May, it lost nearly 1.5 lakh passengers per day in June as the ridership dropped to 25.7 lakh.

However, the ridership picked up from around July. In July and August, the Delhi Metro witnessed a daily average ridership of 26.6 lakh and 27 lakh respectively. Last year, in July, August and September, the metro’s daily average ridership figures were 26.9 lakh, 28.5 lakh and 28.4 lakh, respectively, reflecting a trajectory of sustained growth.

Seeking to defend the fare hike, Puri said that metro fares are neither fixed by the Centre or the Delhi government, both of which hold equal stakes in the DMRC, and pointed out that it was after a gap of eight years that the fares had been hiked. Fare Fixation Committee, a statutory body created under an Act of Parliament, determines the metro fares, he said.

“When the new fixation committee was formed, they decided that since the fares were not hiked during the last eight years, the increase would happen in two segments, one in May and the other in October," Puri said. He also said that the metro is a capital intensive project and if it has to be run efficiently, it’s “long-term liabilities in terms of loan repayment" need to be discharged timely".

“DMRC has a loan of 28,268 crore from JICA. So far, they have only paid 1,507 crore. For the current year, they have to pay 890 crore towards principal and interest liability," he said.

According to the RTI query by a PTI correspondent, the metro’s daily average ridership came down to 24.2 lakh in October from 27.4 lakh in September, a fall of around 11%. The Blue Line, considered the metro’s busiest, lost over 30 lakh commuters, according to data shared by the DMRC in response to an RTI query. The 50-km corridor connects Dwarka to Noida.

The metro currently has a 218-km network across Delhi-NCR. On 10 October, the DMRC effected the fare hike, leading to a rise of around Rs10 for nearly every distance slab. This came barely five months of another hike of up to 100%.

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