Last month many newspapers carried a report quoting, a senior Railway Board official, that discussions were on with “experts” whether to allow private players to run passenger operations and fix fares.
The senior official is a member of the Railway Board and the entire operations of the Indian Railway are controlled by the Railway Board. The member, speaking at an event organised by the Centre for Transportation Research and Management, advocated that India should discuss the options of allowing private operators to operate passenger trains in line with the changes in train operations across the world. He said that senior railway officials of railways and experts were discussing if they could be permitted to fix fares or construct terminals.
The Railway Board member pointed out that there was a need to separate the freight sector and the passenger services. He said that barring a few trains that are making any profit, the running of trains services in the country is a loss making endeavour. He admitted that only 15 percent of non suburban passengers travelled in reserved classes and among them only around 5 percent travelled in higher classes while 10 to 11 percent travelled in sleeper class. This implies that the overwhelming majority of passengers travel in unreserved class. According to this official, there was a need for changes in freight as well as passenger fares and these needed to be made more flexible (fares need not be fixed but be allowed to be increased with rise in demand).
It is to be noted that even as the railway authorities are accepting that the majority of travellers of the Indian Railways, that is 85%, are poor workers and peasants and that they travel unreserved, they have no hesitation in saying that the trains services should be privatised and fares be increased.
The Railway Board Official openly declared what has been the hidden agenda of the Government as well as the Railway Board. While officially denying that the Railways will be privatised, the plans of the authorities are to privatise the railways. In December 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, announced at Diesel Loco Works, Varanasi, that Railways will never be privatised and asked the workers of Indian Railways as well as the people not to believe those who are attacking the Government on privatisation. As recently as July 2018, the Railway Minister, Piyush Goyal, had said that privatisation of railways will never happen!
The Railway Board official is repeating the worn out excuse that railways is running into losses and hence needs to be privatised. But if the majority of its users are poor people of India, workers and peasants, will not privatisation and the corresponding rise in rail fares by allowing private operators to run trains result in this 85% being unable to afford the train services?
If the private operators come in they will cater only to 15% of the travelling public who currently use reservation. Also since all the main line routes are already overcrowded, allowing private operators to run additional trains to cater to 15% of travelling public will lead to more overcrowding of these routes leading to total anarchy and chaos on the railway lines.
The government and railway officials have been citing examples of changes in train operations across the world as justification for privatisation of train services in India. But they hide the fact that privatisation of rail services has been a disaster in other parts of the world too. For example, Great Britain privatised the rail services in 1993, however this has resulted in massive increase in season ticket fares, which are 10 times higher than in other countries in Europe, such as France, Germany and Italy. It has also resulted in increased accidents and higher costs to the government as the Government has to guarantee profits to the private operators! The Government of Great Britain was forced to re-nationalise the main trunk route between London and Glasgow in May 2018.
Privatisation of Indian Railways is an anti-people policy of the Government and the rail authorities. It ignores the fact that the Government is duty bound to provide affordable rail travel to the majority of its citizens. The policy of privatisation has been followed by successive governments at the Centre.
The Rail workers of India need to step up their united struggle to halt the plans of the government and the Railway authorities to push ahead on the road to privatisation.