Topic: Oppose the privatisation of the Indian Railways!
Meeting organised by Kamgar Ekta Committee on Monday, September 21, 2020
Kamgar Ekta Committee organised the second meeting in the series “Unite against Privatisation”. It was widely publicised among the leaders and activists of the Indian Railways as well as other public sector establishments. Over 320 activists from all over the country participated in a great atmosphere of camaraderie. They included railway workers and their representatives from different categories such as loco pilots, guards, station masters, track maintainers, train controllers, signal & telecommunications staff, ticket checking staff and railway workshop staff. They also included workers and their representatives from BPCL, HPCL, ONGC, Air India, LIC, Post & Telecommunications, banks as well as workers from the field of health and education. So much energy and enthusiasm was generated that one railway worker, who is afflicted with Covid, joined in from his hospital bed!
Com Mathew, the Secretary of KEC welcomed the participants. He said that the workers of the Indian Railways (IR) have been toiling throughout the difficult situation created by the ongoing pandemic. They were ensuring that food, medicines, oil and other essentials were carried to all corners of our country. Out of the 13 lakh workers, more than 14,000 had tested positive for covid and more than 360 had died. The rates of those afflicted as well as of those who died were higher than the respective all-India figures. He stressed upon the need to unite all Indians against privatisation. He lauded the bank workers for putting up a brave fight against privatisation and said that we had all helped them by circulating the texts and videos they had produced to explain why bank privatisation is so injurious to common people.
After a very interesting presentation made on behalf of the KEC by Com Ashok Kumar, speakers from a large number of category associations of the IR were asked to express their views. These included Com M N Prasad, Secretary General of the AILRSA (All India Loco Running Staff association) from Nagpur, Com S. P. Singh, General Secretary of AIGC (All India Guards Council) from Vijayawada, NATIONAL Adviser to the AISMA (All India Station Masters Association), Com John Vincent from Chennai, Com Vara Prasad, General Secretary of the AITCA (All India Train Controllers Association), from Vijayawada , Com A C Prakash, General Secretary of IRS&TMU (Indian Railways Signal and Telecommunication Maintainers Union), from Ahmedabad, Com N Panchal, President, AIRTU (All India Railway Track maintainers Union) from Delhi , Com Hemant Soni, General Secretary, IRTCSO (Indian railways Ticket Checking Staff Organisation) from Bhopal and Com A K Shrivastava, Zonal Secretary, Western Railway, of AIREC (All India Railway Employees Confederation) from Mumbai. A large number of activists including the representatives of CGPI (Communist Ghadar Party of India) and other organisations made useful interventions.
A large number of very important points came out in the presentation, speeches and interventions.
The New Economic Policy of globalisation through liberalisation and privatisation that was launched in 1991 by the Congress has been followed by every government since then. It is the agenda of Indian and foreign monopolies, who look at everything and everyone as a source of profit. They keep looking for new avenues for profit to come out of the crisis they are repeatedly facing due to the nature of capitalism. Acquiring public sector assets built with people’s money at throwaway prices is extremely profitable for them.
In 2001 the Rakesh Mohan Committee recommended starting the process of privatisation by corporatizing what it called the “non-core sector” of the IR. Various steps towards privatisation were taken in accordance with suggestions by various committees until 100% FDI was allowed in 2014 and the Debroy Committee advocated complete privatisation. In 2019, the newly elected NDA government announced the 100-Day Action Plan. Due to the determined opposition of the workers from all over the country, the plan could not be implemented in 100 days, but it still looms large.
In recent years a number of stations have already been privatised, and 2 Tejas (private) trains have been started in 2019. Plans have been announced to run 150 private trains on the most profitable 109 routes and to privatise 50 more stations. Private players will get to redevelop an area of 5 lakh square metres at the New Delhi station and another 2.6 lakh square metres, surrounding it for commercial purposes. Similarly, the prime station of Mumbai, the CSMT will be revamped. The developer will be handed over 2.5 lakh sq m for his private use for sixty years.
Attempts are also being made to begin the process of corporatizing the railway’s production units in the next financial year. For that the current seven coach factories are to be merged into one single entity, called the Indian Railways Rolling Stock.
After independence, the Indian ruling class has got the government of the day to implement nationalisation and privatisation as per its needs. 32 private railways of princely states were taken over after independence. Today only the most profitable parts of the IR are being privatised. At the same time, there are plans to push over the loss making Mumbai Metro to the public sector.
About a fourth of the workers of IR – 4 lakh of them – already work for private contractors at abysmal wages, in dangerous conditions and with no job security or any benefits. About 12 lakh workers are still working for the IR. The combined strength of these workers is huge and they work in one of the most vital or “essential” of services. Their strength would be multiplied manifold if they win over the passengers to their side by explaining to them how privatisation would adversely affect their interests. (See Box).
Impact on Rail Passengers and other workers
Indian Railways are the property of people. Its assets of nearly Rs. 6 lakh crore have been built with people’s money and the hard work of lakhs of rail workers over more than 165 years! Providing safe affordable rail travel is one of the basic duties of a government and it has absolutely no right to hand it over for private profit! The same is the case of other services like education, health, sanitation, piped water, electricity and so on. Depriving crores of people of essential services by privatising them is totally anti-social!
Railways are strategically important and in fact are the lifeline of country. It’s an anti-national step to allow 100% FDI in them!
Thus, privatisation of the Indian Railways is an attack on the entire Indian working class as well as on all working people!
Last year workers along with their families were able to stop corporatisation of seven production units of the Indian Railways as well as of ordnance factories. It can even be reversed, as happened in the case of railways in Britain, Argentina and recently in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
The majority of speakers agreed that we have to take steps towards the Navnirman of India, where people will have power in their hands to orient the economy to satisfy their needs and not the greed of capitalists.
Participants agreed that the struggle against privatisation of Indian Railways is a part of the struggle against privatisation of all Public Sector Units and essential services. We have to support each other in the spirit, “An attack on one is an attack on all!”
Plans were drawn up to take actions to build unity at unit and branch level, and broadening it across sectors. A broad front has to be built against privatisation, and in that direction it was decided to carry out a campaign among the citizens on the disastrous consequences of privatisation.