Rajeev R Singh
Railway employees are protesting. But who is listening? This government is hell bent on privatising the Indian Railways, but in today’s age and times, it’s a non-issue, as it’s the BJP who is at the helm and for them, all is maaf.
While we have been busy since the last 5 years with so much on our hands, like cricket, neta log banter, Modi awards, Akshay Kumar interviews, the rubbish that the over 30 page TOI doled out as news on a daily basis, pappi- jhaapis as the mainstay of our foreign niti; our Niti Aayog has quietly and privately paved the way for full-fledged privatisation of our railways. That means, the actual running of the trains.
So, now trains such as the Rajdhani Expresses, Shatabdis, and some Mails and Expresses will be given off to some favourite privates like the Adanis to roll. Then before the next 5 years will pass, Indian Railways may eventually well become Adani Railways!
For those who are unaware, a lot of the operations of Indian Railways has already been privatised in many areas. These include coach and locomotive manufacturing and repairs; ownership of locomotives, freight terminals, and rolling stock, besides maintaining railway stations. Many of these activities have already been tasked out to private operators, in the last 2 years.
During 2014, the Modi cabinet had cleared FDI in Indian Railways to the extent of 100%, that too by the automatic route. This means 100 percent foreign direct Investment is possible in a venture such as in high-speed trains and that too without the permission of the RBI or GOI.
As an impact of privatisation in railways, we should be prepared to hear about large scale downsizing of jobs and laying off of Railway employees on one or the other pretext. Also, private players will cease train operations on the so-called ‘unprofitable routes.’ So large swathes of rural India will go off the Railway Map of India. Glimpses of this have already been shown to us since the last 4 years, when hundreds of passenger trains are routinely canceled for entire seasons in many parts of India, causing untold hardships mainly to the poor and marginalised people living in villages, kasbas and small towns.
It will also mean that railway fares will significantly rise, and like is the case with Delhi Metro, the Indian Railways too will become exclusionary with unaffordable fares for the majority of Indians, as they are poor.
As it is, concepts such as Premium Tatkal and ‘dynamic pricing’ seen in Rajdhani/Shatabdi and some other railway fares have shown dynamism only in reducing occupancy in these trains even during peak season. Profits aren’t coming into the coffers of the railways, as in most of these so-called premium routes, the fares are now nearly as high as airfares. Hence many people choose to fly rather than go by train. So private players too will not be happy, as raising fares any further will be counterproductive and profits will be difficult to come by, even on these routes.
So ultimately, in line with the international trends, privatisation of railways is not likely to work out. Especially so in India, as our corporate houses are very profit sensitive and do not display fundamental human compassion and a missionary zeal to run public services that cater to the poor. This is the crucial spirit needed to run a rail-based transportation system that caters to all sections of our people, especially the poor.
However, despite this knowledge being out in the open, our govt is dabbling deep and wide into this suicidal terrain. The result will possibly be the dismantling of Indian Railways causing untold miseries to the people of India. We are likely to lose much of our grand railway system that was bequeathed to us by the British and nurtured so lovingly by past govts. so what if inadequately. However, this govt will continue to do what it is best at, that is, destruction of all that has existed and served this nation.
Rajeev R Singh is a rights activist and has been associated with various peoples forums since the last many years. He has worked to support rights issues of Dalits and toiling people.
Picture courtesy: the internet.