Vol. XLIII No. 27 July 07, 2019

No Privatisation of Indian Railways

THE Modi government’s second coming is going to be marked by a stepped up privatisation drive. Already the Niti Aayog has announced that 46 public sector enterprises will be sold off or shut down as per a 100 day action plan. 

The centerpiece of this privatisation drive will be the Indian Railways.  According to the action plan proposed by the ministry of railways, private passenger trains will be operated within 100 days. Two passenger trains will be offered to Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a subsidiary of the railways, which would provide ticketing and onboard services.  These trains will be run on important routes like the Golden Quadrilateral connecting major cities.

The government wants to handover the running of premier trains, including the Rajdhani and Shatabdi Express trains, to private operators for which tenders would be floated this year itself.

The trains to metropolitan cities and premier routes, which are more profitable, will be given to the private sector.  This would imply also higher railway fares and cutting the subsidies given by the government. 

Already, during the previous term of the government, plans were put in place for handing over various railway stations to private parties for running them. Already the large assets of the railways like land are being given out for commercial use.

Now the further proposal is for the seven production units and associated workshops to be hived off from the Indian Railways and brought under a separate company. This would be the first step towards privatisation and will pave the way for outsourcing production to private companies.

The Indian Railways, with its network covering 69,182 kilometers across the length and breadth of the country, symbolises the unity of the country. It carries millions of ordinary people to all corners of India.

The railway system was built by the British when it ruled India.  Before independence, there were private railway companies operating in various railway zones.  It is after independence that the whole of the railways were nationalised. Now the Modi government wants to take the railways back to the colonial times.

Breaking up the Indian Railways and handing over parcels of it to the private sector will be destroying this great network which binds India together.

Moreover, the Indian Railways caters to the vast mass of the poor and working people. This is the cheapest form of transportation and is the lifeline for the livelihood for millions. Privatisation will eventually deprive the poorest sections of this vital form of transport, while private companies will profiteer from this basic service.

The best railway network systems in Europe, like in France, are State owned. In Britain, the railways were privatised more than three decades ago.  The results were detrimental for the passengers and the mass transportation system ─ expensive tickets, unpunctuality of train services, frequent breakdowns and accidents have been the record since privatisation. That is why opinion polls have shown that 73 per cent of the people favour renationalisation of the railways in Britain. 

The Indian Railways should not be privatised.  The defence of the State-run railway system must be made a major issue for people’s support. The trade unions are gearing up to oppose this measure. The workers at the Modern Coach Factory at Rae Bareli and the Diesel Locomotive Works at Varanasi have gone on strike against corporatisation.

But this is not a matter for only the trade unions to take up. A peoples’ movement must be built up to protect the Indian Railways and its vital role in Indian society.

(July 3, 2019)