Railway budget – Further attacks on working people

The Railway budget presented on February 26, 2013 by Railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal intensifies the all round attack on the livelihood of the working masses by the UPA government.

The Railway budget presented on February 26, 2013 by Railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal intensifies the all round attack on the livelihood of the working masses by the UPA government.

Freight rates have been hiked by about 5.79 per cent on almost all commodities. This will result in increased prices of essential commodities of mass consumption. Through various surcharges, passengers will have to pay even more, over and above the increase announced recently.

The Minister has announced the setting up a Rail Tariff Authority which will revise the freight and passenger fares according to the price of diesel.

The Minster has justified these measures as a consequence of the de-regularization of diesel prices and its increased cost. Meanwhile, petroleum companies have announced that they will further raise their prices in order to compensate for the increase in freight rates of petroleum products! This vicious cycle reminds one of the story in which a monkey offers to settle the dispute between two cats in sharing an appam (pancake). The monkey divides the appam and weighs the two pieces on a balance. As the balance tilts more to one side, the monkey takes that portion and eats part of the appam and keeps it back on the balance. Then the balance shifts to the other side, again the mediator monkey takes a bite from the other portion; the monkey repeats this act several times, till finally, nothing is left for the cats which had taken up the monkey’s offer of mediating. In a similar way, the Central government is attacking the livelihood and well being of the people.

The rail minister has announced that special A/C coaches called ‘Anubhuti’, with higher fares will be added to select routes of the Rajdhani and Shatabdi. This is a move to degrade the current A/C services of various trains. Life experience has shown that whenever “new”, “high class” trains or coaches are introduced, the older trains and coaches are deliberately allowed to degenerate.

Bansal announced the introduction of new trains, improvement of facilities & safety, newer projects, newer factories in various regions, etc. However the minister has not put the money where his mouth is. Every year such announcements are made. Most of the projects remain on paper, especially those related to improvement of facilities and safety. Conditions have gone from bad to worse for the vast masses of people using the railways, as well as for the railway employees.

Whenever new routes are announced, older routes are invariably cancelled. Accidents keep increasing in frequency. The factories never come up. If a review of action is taken on the pronouncements of various previous rail budgets, it will be found that the only action taken are increase in fares and intensified exploitation of the work force of the railways. 

There are a huge number of vacancies of engine drivers. The working conditions of loco men are very exploitative. Outsourcing and contracting out is rampant in most departments. However, promises of newer recruitments made in every budget never get honored. In this budget speech, the Minister has announced that 47,000 vacancies for “weaker sections and physically challenged people” will be filled soon. The Minister has hidden the fact that lakhs of jobs in the railways have been deliberately cut, and various departments outsourced, precisely to cut labour costs and avoid filling the existing posts. Going by experience, one can safely say that the aim of the announcement of recruitment is to befuddle the rail workers and the youth aspiring for jobs in the railways.

The Minister has announced fresh investments of Rs 9000 crores. Most of this will be spent to directly improve the services for Indian big capitalists and their businesses such as Rs 3,800 crores for port connectivity and Rs 800 crores in iron ore mines connectivity.

The Rail Minister declares that the railways are running at a “loss”. He justifies the rise in freight and passenger fares, as well as the extremely poor quality of services on this basis. “Loss making” is being used to justify privatization and contracting out of the profit making branches of the railways. The course being pursued is the course followed with all privatizations — the burden of loss making branches should be borne by the people, while the capitalists are allowed to make maximum profits.

Privatisation is being carried out under the slogan that railways should concentrate on its “core function” of transportation. Based on the recommendation of the Planning Commission committee on the railways in December 2011, the railways have been rapidly implementing outsourcing. Activities such as cleaning of coaches, provision of linen as well as catering services are already outsourced. So is the maintenance of the trains and the tracks. Corporatization and phased disinvestment is being carried out in various areas, such as producing of coaches, wagons and locomotives and the managing of key stations.

In this budget, the Railway Minister has announced that Rs 1 lakh crores is going to be raised from “public-private partnership”. Obviously, the announcement of seven new coach manufacturing factories and maintenance workshops is based on attracting private capital. Fertile ground has been created for the monopoly corporations to make assured huge profits at the cost of people’s tax money.

The central issue that workers should raise is this: Are not the railways public services which must serve the whole of society? It is the duty of the government to invest in the railways to make travel affordable, safer, more comfortable and faster and to transport goods across the country rapidly. This is in the best interest of the working masses of town and country.  This is the issue, which is sought to be diverted from.

In opposition to this, railways are being used to provide cheaper and subsidized inputs to the monopoly capitalists and their corporations to facilitate higher profits for them. The workers in the railways are super exploited. Whenever an accident takes place, it is the driver and guard who are blamed. Top officials of the railways make money in handing out contracts for maintenance, and the services provided by these companies are invariably of doubtful quality at high cost.

The solution is not to retain the status quo or further privatization and liberalization as it is made out. Solution is that the working class has to fight to bring public sector organizations like the railways under its control and supervision to ensure they serve their interests.

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