People from all over the country visit Sharda Devi in Maihar and enjoy a safe and pleasant ropeway experience.
The rising inflation in the last four years has exerted immense economic pressure on the operator to meet the increased operating costs. As a result, it has been requesting for a fare revision since 2020. The double whammy of discontinuance of input credit once GST was lowered to 5% also hit them hard. The fare correction has now been partially approved and implemented by the Mandir Samity.
While bearing the increased costs over the years, the ropeway company continued the well-organized operation of the ropeway while also increasing the facilities each year. The fare in 2019 was Rs. 130 (including the prevalent 18% GST). It has now been increased to Rs. 150 (including the 5% GST at present), which translates to an actual hike of only Rs. 20 in four years. Post reduction in GST, the samity and the operator passed on the entire GST benefit to the pilgrims by reducing fare by 13% to make it Rs. 116. By this calculation the base fare hike after 4 years (base fare from 110 to 143) works out to just Rs. 33 or a 6.5% annualised increase which is even lesser than the annualised inflation rate of last 4 years, let alone actual cost increases. It is worth mentioning that when the GST was at 18%, the benefit of input credit was available. Now, it has been reduced to 5% and the input credit is not available.
For the benefit of Local residents and refluent visitors to the temple, the samity also asked the operator and the operator introduced daily passes using which the local adults can now travel up and down (two-way) once a day for four weeks by paying just ten days’ fare which works out to just Rs. 1500/- now, which is a massive discount for locals and the first-of-its-kind initiative.
Despite a considerable reduction in footfall during the COVID pandemic, the ropeway management continued to provide all the facilities to the devotees and even further increased the amenities and facilities available. As far as the fare correction is concerned, the operator may request for a fare revision on an annual basis or greater intervals as may be needed to keep the project viable and present its case to the Administration (Prashasan) and satisfy their queries and concerns. In the last 4 years itself, due to the inflationary pressures, the cost of machines, equipment, spares and repairs have increased by 40% to over 100% in some cases. The salaries of skilled employees have also increased by 12-15% yearly which means a net rise in manpower costs by over 50%. The number of staff has also been increased keeping in line the additional amenities and need for extra security which also has pushed up the operational costs significantly.
Despite this hike, the fare of Maihar Ropeway is lower than other ropeways of similar capacity/technical parameters/similar infrastructure, which are operating in the country. For example, in late 2022, when the Samity compiles the data, the cost of an adult two-way ticket price of comparable ropeways were as follows:
Parvanu – 1250, Auli – 1000 (cable chair), Patni Top – 999, Girnar – 632, Chandi Devi-Mansa Devi – 324, Auli – 300 (Chair Lift), Jatayupura – 263, Jhanku – 250, Darjeeling – 200, Naina Devi – 185, Surkhanda – 177, Pushkar – 160, Pavagadh – 150, Chitrakut Hanumandhara 145.
Damodar Ropeway has also continued to enhance pilgrim facilities from time to time while implementing the recommendations of the administration and temple committee. While improvement in facilities is an ongoing process, significant work has been carried out in the last year. These include the construction of a covered walkway shed from the entrance to the ticket queue, extension of additional free water outlet in the waiting area, washroom facility for handicapped with ramp, renovation of 5 ladies’ toilet units, renovation of 8 units of men’s urinals, erection of precast fabricated boundary wall for parking area operated by temple committee, beefing up of security, increasing the number of CCTV cameras on the campus to more than 50 with live monitoring from Kolkata, installation of additional high-speed industrial fans and lights in the queue and waiting areas for better ventilation, painting and repairs of the building and civil structures on the campus, extension of other measures like safety signs, fire-fighting equipment, six wheelchairs, three first aid kit points and other facilities, upgradation of technical equipment for wind speed detection and other safety enhancements & development as part of regular O&M activities, including replacing main cable ropes and upgrading safety parameters, construction of a fast-track queue (permission to operate it with a differential pricing and formal Managment system is pending), increasing the number of security personnel by almost three times, and installation of public announcement system amongst other additional facilities and amenities. Various Technical and Safety upgrades have also been done from time to time for smother and safer operations.
SK Agarwal, Executive Director, Damodar Ropeways Infra Limited, which operates the Maihar Ropeway, said, “We always strive to make provide a safe and enjoyable travel experience to the pilgrims by keeping the operations and maintenance at par with world-class standards. We have always provided and will continue to offer world-class operations and yatri suvidha without compromising due to increased costs in the short term. We had been requesting the authorities to increase ticket prices since 2020 to cover the inflationary pressures and the subsequent loss of GST input. It has now been partially approved. The long pending fare correction of Rs. 33 in 4 years translates to a paltry 6.5% annualized increase in the base fare, which is even less than the average annual inflation for the last four years. We believe it’s a long due step in the correct direction and will help us provide even better service to all pilgrims going forward.”