A meeting of members and supporters of the Communist Ghadar Party of India was organised in Delhi on 13th May 2018 to discuss the issue of privatisation of Indian Railways. A paper on the topic "Unite to Defeat Privatisation of Indian Railways", was presented by Lal Singh, General Secretary, at this meeting. The presentation was followed by a discussion in which members and supporters discussed what had been put forward and shared their own experiences related to railways. A summary of the discussions is presented here.
Indian Railways is the largest public enterprise and the largest employer in the country. The privatisation of railways threatens not only the well-being of its 17 lakh workers but also of crores of people who regularly use its service. This program of privatisation has already resulted in the destruction of lakhs of regular railway jobs and has had harmful effects on the safety of both workers and passengers.
There are several examples to show how the program of privatisation of Indian Railways has been and continues to be carried out surreptitiously. One after another, governments have set up committees to recommend breaking up of various departments and activities that were traditionally carried out by the Indian Railway and opening them up for private profit seeking capitalists.
For example, the Expert Committee set up in 2001 by the NDA government recommended that 'non-core' activities of railways must be outsourced or corporatised. Outsourcing means handing over some aspect of railways activity to private contractors. Corporatisation means to separate some activity to a corporation under government control, which can be sold to a private bidder once it starts generating profits. According to this recommendation, cleaning, washing, catering, maintaining air conditioned coaches, etc. were outsourced and corporatized in subsequent years.
Another committee set up in 2011 by the Congress led UPA government recommended privatisation in the form of public-private partnership (PPP). Activities like maintenance of stations and construction and running of rail corridors are taken up in the PPP mode, where the 'partnering' private company is assured profits while the risks are assumed by the public 'partner'. Yet another high level committee was set up soon after the BJP led NDA government with the task of preparing a blueprint for further advancing the program of privatisation of Indian Railways.
The presentation elaborated on the serious undermining of the safety of railway operations because of government policy and actions. It pointed out that of the three lakh trackmen required to maintain the tracks in safe operating condition, as many as 70,000 positions of trackmen has not been filled. Instead of hiring trackmen, governments have been giving the job of track maintenance to private contractors who employ untrained trackmen. This has not only caused a marked increase in the number of train accidents in the recent years but a shocking number of trackmen (about 600 in a year) are dying while performing track maintenance. Safety is also being undermined due to unfilled vacancies in the posts of loco pilots and guards, who are being made to work for inhumanly long hours. Government is even considering a plan of replacing guards in goods trains by machines known as EoTT or End of Train Telemetry.
The policies of the government are also against the interest of rail travellers. The government policy of encouraging investments only on profitable routes will inevitably lead to closing down of services and rising fares on less crowded routes. This is borne out by the international experience of railways privatisation. Similar policies in Argentina have led to railway lines reducing to mere 820 km from 7000 km in 1958. Now railway service there is limited to trains running only between big cities. The frequency and severity of accidents have also gone up.
The presentation also highlighted the opposition to the privatisation program by unions and associations of all sections of the railway workers. This opposition has forced the various governments at the Centre to desist from openly advocating privatisation of railways. Instead, governments have been hiding their privatisation program under labels of rationalisation and restructuring. Militant and united protests of railway workers throughout the country against FDI, PPP, corporatisation and outsourcing have forced the government to retract some of its steps. However, the Indian ruling class is keen to open railways sector for private profiteering and is hell bent on breaking the unity of the railway workers.
Railway workers in India have a glorious history of actions against the ruling class - both before independence and after independence. In 1974 as many as 122 railways unions and 14 lakh railway workers unitedly went on an all-India strike. The ruling class wants to ensure that railway workers do not unite in action again against its anti-worker, anti-social and anti-national policies. It has been using every means of propaganda to create a rift between different sections of railway workers and also cause antagonism between the railway workers and railway passengers.
The conclusion from the presentation and discussion was clear - privatisation of railways is an anti-worker, anti-social and anti-national program.
It is in the interest of all railway workers and passengers alike to oppose the privatisation program of Indian Railways. All sections of workers and peoples must unite against the privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation program with the revolutionary perspective of establishing the rule of workers and peasants!
The paper has since been published by the party as a pamphlet.