The proposal to do away with the free rail passes for employees was first made by the Expenditure Reforms Commission in 2004. Then Rail Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav had disagreed with this recommendation when it came up for consideration by the Cabinet and said it should be struck down immediately.
Instead of rejecting the proposal, the Cabinet chose to tread a middle path, suggesting that an in-House study be conducted to get an estimate of the costs entailed.
The study, undertaken by the Railway Ministry, turned out to be quite a revelation. It showed that during 2004-2005, the Railways had over 14 lakh employees on its rolls while the number of pensioners was close to 12 lakhs. The cost of a free pass per employer for one year was estimated at Rs 3,311 and for a retired person it was Rs 498. The total cost for these freebies for a year was pegged at Rs 528 crore. For serving officers the figure was over Rs 471 crore and for pensioners it was nearly Rs 57 crore.
Given the staggering costs involved and the country’s financial condition, the radical elements in the UPA were pitching for scrapping this facility. However, Mamata insisted that it should be continued and everybody went along.