Monday, 29 April 2024 11:40

Railways : Claims and Reality

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Claims

 Modi in December 2014 - ‘I want to make it clear that we are not privatising Railways. We cannot go in this direction’

Modi in March 2024, while inaugurating and laying the foundation stones of several railway projects and flagging off ten Vande Bharat trains on the same day - ‘The foundation stone laying that happened today has come with the guarantee of your bright future’…‘Today I am giving a guarantee to the nation that in the next five years, Indian Railways will see such a transformation which no one would have imagined’

Reality

Privatisation:

In 2015, Bibek Debroy committee, constituted by Modi government recommended unbundling of the Indian Railways to facilitate piecemeal privatisation and also merging of Railway Budget with Union Budget.

Modi government started implementing them. Since 2017, the railway budget has been merged with the union budget. The government started splitting Indian Railways horizontally and vertically so private corporates can grab the pieces easily. It ignored the danger that lack of synchronisation between the various activities handed over to different private entities, would pose to the smooth running of trains and safety of passengers. It announced 100% FDI in almost all the activities performed by Indian Railways – construction, operations, maintenance, rolling stock, dedicated lines, train sets etc. Major activities like cleaning, maintenance works, ticketing etc have been outsourced to private players. It started privatisation of railway stations in the name of private participation in station development.

The 100 day action plan of the Indian Railways, after Modi returned to power in 2019, included corporatisation of the production units and other services, to facilitate their privatisation

National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP)

NMP is meant for handing over public infrastructure at throwaway prices to private corporates. Railway assetsincluding railway stations, passenger trains, railway tracks, goods sheds, etcare leased out to private companies on a long term basis.Thus control of assets is transferredto private companies for an indefinite period, which is nothing but privatisation.

The move to privatise goods sheds would impact not only the loading and unloading workers but also public control over land and the prices of commodities. With dedicated freight corridors built with public money being handed over to private players, private profits would become the priority over public welfare. Freight traffic today contributes 65% of revenue for the Indian Railways. Privatisation of this cost effective mode of transport would lead to loss of revenue to the Railways as well as endanger livelihood of thousands of people

Vande Bharat trains:

Production

Our production units have the expertise in producing diesel and electric locomotives and rail coaches. Integral Coach Factory in Chennai designed and manufactured the Vande Bharat express. But in April 2022, Indian Railways invited private bids for production of Vande Bharat trains as well as for their maintenance.

The decision to award the maintenance contracts for Vande Bharat trains will affect the functioning of the carriage and wagon repair and maintenance units and workshops across various zones employing 5.5 lakh workers. This is certainly going to destroy our indigenous capacity and leadto job losses.

Conditions of workers

The contract workers employed who provide basic services in the more than 50 Vande Bharat trains running today travel back to back for over 20 hours. But they are denied of minimum wages, over time payment, social security like PF, ESI etc and even resting place in the coaches. They are under the perpetual threat of losing their jobs if they raise their voice or try to get organised into unions.

More than 5 lakh contract workers, most of them young, are working in the Railways. Though the contractors are obliged to pay minimum wages and other statutory benefits to the contract workers as per the agreement they enter into with the government, all these are denied to the contract workers. The contractors siphon off workers’ legitimate earnings and loot hundreds of crores of rupees from the exchequer every year.

Bright future for the youth:

Indian Railways was one of the avenues that provided secure jobs to the youth of our country. But, the number of permanent employees in the Railways has declined by more than 1.5 lakh between 2015 and 2023. More than 3 lakh posts are lying vacant including in safety categories. In the name of austerity, posts are being abolished.

Transformation of the Railways

The Railways, which is now cheapest mode of transport available to the people, particularly the poor, will no more remain so, if the Modi government’s policies are allowed to continue. The last few years had shown this.

The redeveloped stations do not have any space for the poor passengers. Free waiting rooms are replaced by paid lounges. Platform tickets have become unaffordable.

General compartments are fast dwindling in numbers and are being replaced by AC coaches. Halts of passenger trains at smaller stations with low revenue are being abolished. Dynamic fares are introduced. Concessions for senior citizens, persons with disabilities, cancer patients, students etc have been abolished.

Spaces near the railway stations where the poor autorickshaw and rickshaw drivers used to park their vehicles are handed over to big private players in the name of ‘development’. Hundreds of thousands of them are losing their income. Poor passengers are losing cheap affordable transport to and from the railway stations.

Passenger trains are being detained to allow Vande Bharat trains to pass resulting in huge difficulties to the common passengers and dislocation of their routines. Private train operators will be allowed to fix prices, decide services and routes of the trains run by them.

It is clear that the Modi led BJP government is working for the ‘vikas’ of the big Corporates and ‘vinash’ of the common people. It cannot be allowed to continue 

Use your vote. Defeat the BJP and its allies to free the country from the regime thatguarantees loot and plunder by the corporates; to save the Railways and the nation

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