The Indian Railways (IR) organised a massive campaign over the last three months beginning September 2016, ostensibly with the purpose of getting suggestions from its 13 lakh workforce on how to improve the functioning of the Railways. 75,000 staff members gave over 150,000 suggestions and the best of these were to be selected and discussed at the 3 day shivir. Only delegates from the recognised trade unions, NFIR and AIFR were allowed to attend. There were more than 2000 delegates, and the majority were senior management staff right from Chairman of Railway Board, Divisional Railway Managers (DRMs), Heads of Departments (HODs), etc. There were very few workers from the Class III and IV categories apart from the delegates from recognised unions.
The Shivir was inaugurated by videoconference by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and was attended by the Minister of Railways, Suresh Prabhu, along with his two Ministers of State, Secretaries to the Government of India, senior officials from the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Secretariat and senior officials of the NITI Ayog. The three day Shivir was also addressed by Martha Lawrence, Chief Analyst of the World Bank specialising in Transport, CEO of Infrastructure Development Bank, ex- Chairman of SBI, Professors from IIT, IIM’s and CEO’s of Railways from Russia, Japan, Korean Railway and Italian Railways!
Though the purpose of the Shivir was ostensibly to collect the best ideas, it soon became clear that the real aim of this Shivir was to push the through the ideas of privatisation of the Indian Railways and a plan for the same had already been chalked out in consultation with foreign consultants such as Morgan Stanley, Mackenzie etc. Though the shivir went through the motions of presenting the best ideas from the staff of the 17 Zones of the Indian Railways, any idea that aimed to discharge one of the primary functions of the Indian Railways to build connectivity in our vast hinterland and thereby give employment to the local population, was scorned and ridiculed as not cost effective by the Senior Management present at the Shivir! The representative of the World Bank as well as CEO’s of the foreign Railways present (they called only the CEO’s of the Railways which had been privatised) criticized the current operation of the Railways, where passenger fares are subsidised. They said that the passengers must be asked to pay for the full cost of the services offered by the Indian Railways. They asked why ticketing and checking staff are employed when the entire operation can be online.
The following were some of the ideas that were imposed on the participants at the conference.
- The development of the Indian Railways is impossible without infusion of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment), Private Investment, Debt Financing and Privatisation.
- Railway structure is to be revamped with segregation of activities of different departments into 3 different corporations, i.e Locomotives, Infrastructure including tracks and station buildings, etc., and Wagons.
- Widespread mechanisation and automation to be introduced in production, maintenance and operational field.
- Impetus to be given for a turnaround of the Indian Railways to establish it as a profit oriented business entity.
- Subsidy on fares to be cancelled and the IR to levy charges for all services and amenities provided to passengers.
- Diversify business interests by collaboration with corporate, NGOs and private sector companies.
- Generate revenues by monetisation of all tangible and non-tangible assets, such as land, railway colonies, hospitals and utility centres.
- Pruning of workforce to bare requirements and to fix performance related pay, allowances and incentives.
All the above shows that what is being planned for the Indian Railways behind the backs of the people is step by step privatisation with aggressive participation of private capitalists, infusion of FDI and debt funds. This has been the agenda of this government as well as the previous Congress Governments. The current BJP led Government is determined to accelerate the speed of privatisation.
Mazdoor Ekta Lehar calls on the Indian Railway workers as well as the working class of India to defeat the anti-people and anti-social agenda of privatisation of the Indian Railways.