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Indian Railways is willing to restore fare concessions for senior citizens in select classes after a parliamentary panel recommended restoring benefits for the neediest, two persons aware of the development said.

In a recent report tabled in Parliament, the standing committee recommended restoring concessions for sleeper and AC three-tier classes in some trains to provide relief for senior citizens among economically weaker sections, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.

The return of concession may be accompanied by the Give It Up scheme, where individuals have the option to forgo the concession if desired.

Queries sent to the ministry of railways remained unanswered till press time.

In March 2020, as the covid-19 pandemic broke out, the government withdrew a slew of rail concessions. However, the parliamentary panel said as the railways is nearing normalcy, it should consider the concessions granted to different categories of passengers judiciously.

“The committee desires that concession to senior citizens which was available in pre-covid times may be reviewed and considered at least in sleeper class and III AC urgently so that the vulnerable and the genuinely needy senior citizens could avail the facility in these classes," its report said.

The restoration of concession, if approved by the railways, would come against the backdrop of a raging political debate over freebies, which the government views as vehicles to please vote banks at huge economic costs. As part of its social service obligations, the railways extends concession in passenger fares to more than 50 categories of passengers.

The element of concession varies from 10% to 100% (40-50% for senior citizens) and are permitted for certain categories, including the physically challenged, 11 types of patients, senior citizens, freedom fighters, press correspondents, war widows and sportspeople.

The railways also provides concessions to rail staff by way of privilege passes, privilege ticket orders and complimentary passes. The quantum of revenue forgone in the passenger earnings segment as a result of concessions was 1,670 crore in FY17, 1,810 crore in FY18 and 1,995 crore in FY19, forming a substantial burden on railway finances. The panel also recommended that the ministry take proactive steps to review the criterion for granting concessions to reduce the impact on finances.

Answering a question in Lok Sabha recently, railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said restoration of concessions to senior citizens and sports persons is not desirable as fares in most classes were already low, and the railways has suffered recurring losses due to low fares and concessions. However, the thinking now seems to be to include the neediest category in the limited list of segments that continue to get rail concessions.

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