Highlight
The word was out on June 12 that Kanpur Railway Junction is to be auctioned for Rs 200 crore and Allahabad for Rs 150 croreas part of the Central Government’s Public Private Partnership (PPP) project which involves redeveloping these stations
 
Golden Chicken for the Bidders
Government plans to auction the country’s most prominent railway stations. A report (on the Patrika.com website ) said that an online auction will take place on June 28 in which two stations of Uttar Pradesh – Kanpur Junction and Allahabad Junction will go under the hammer
 
The rules of the game
The Central Government has already laid down the auction rules - Interested companies can log on to the railway website and bid for the junction. The results of the auction will be announced on June 30
 
What those in power have to say
Railway Minister, Suresh Prabhu told Economic Times last month (May 2017)“India plans to auction one of its largest
The question is...
Who is going to take responsibility for the new system that is implemented? As mentioned so far, the Indian Railways will only take responsibility for train operations, ticket sales, parcels and security arrangements. Bigger questions of revenue collection, availability of trains, decisions on routes, maintenance of tracks, etc. are not addressed yet
 
The arrangement
As decided,for now the station will be leased to the respective private company for a period of 45 years. During these 45 years, the company will have to furnish the railway station with world-class facilities -develop food stalls and recreational areas, etc.
 
The saving grace
The private companies, under no circumstances, shall tamper with the architectural heritage of the stations. This means that the archaic, majestic structures of Kanpur Central and Allahabad Junction railway stations will remain intact.
 
What is privatisation?
Privatisation is the selling of Public Sector Undertakings to private corporations. It enables healthy competition among private corporations. This ensures that the services are optimum and prices are competitive, since the consumer has the right to reject one company for another
 
Is privatization of railways beneficial?
Our research says it’s not. Why? There are a few concrete issues

Railways, in India, are a feasible mode of transport for the majority of the country’s population
  • The Indian population is not so economically developed that each household can afford a car or vehicle. Most, cannot even afford a taxi ride. Railways are the most viable mode of transport. Millions use the Indian railways each day 
  • As of now, the Indian Railways connect the remotestcorners of the country, providing accessibility to the geographically diverse population. It runs 12,617 trains to carry over 23 million passengers daily - equivalent to moving the entire population of Australia; connecting more than 7,172 stations
  • However, Privatisation will mean preference of  profitable routes, hence, connectivity to the remote parts, villages and non-profit yielding routes will take a hit 
  • The Indian Railways are not for profit. The focus is service of society. With the intervention of the private sector, the fares may be hiked, and owing to the common notion of cost cutting, the services like sanitation, food, beverage, cleanliness, safety may be compromised with

The companies in India with a capacity to take over such a huge network of national scale are far too few, to promote a healthy competitive market 
  • Fewer competitors may lead to a monopoly. Monopoly through the private sector may tend to cause the same troubles that we already face with inefficient public sector companies. The problems include low accountability, lack of responsibility, producer centric approach, exploitation of the poor, etc.
  • What is certain is that the poor will face the brunt, whether or not the better services envisioned are implemented
 
Indian Railways is the largest Public sector employer in the world, with over 1.4 million employees on its rolls
  • Privatisation means that huge layoffs will take place and lakhs of people will be unemployed
 
There is no concrete plan of revenue sharing proportion between private companies and Indian railways. However, if charge is to be given to the private companies, the Indian railways will lose a huge chunk of revenue

 
What the railway unions have to say
According to the unions, they are opposed to the introduction of privatization and foreign direct investment in the railways, defence and other strategic sectors and demand that no unilateral amendments be made to labour laws.Business Standard, “On May 30, leaders of 10 trade unions protested against the “anti-people and antiworker policies” of the government. The meeting also decided to conduct a national convention of workers at Talkatora Stadium here on August 8, followed by conventions at block, tehsil and district levels. The trade unions plan to hold a three day dharna near Parliament during its winter session and call for nationwide industrial strikes by February. There were suggestions at the meeting to repeat the railway strike of 1974. The leaders are yet to take a call on this but agreed that an “indefinite strike” would impact key sectors, including railways, ports & docks and coal, among others”
 
Strike of 1974, should contemporary India follow suit?
The railway strike of 1974 raised hopes by championing solidarity. In May 1974, railway workers went on a strike in what was perhaps the most intense working class action in independent India. As rightly stated in the Outlook Magazine,“Noteworthy about this strike is the persisting idea of workers’ democracy, of the living ideal of railwaymen’s unity, the lofty position of the NCCRS in the mind of the worker, and the continuing relevance of the institution called the NCCRS in not only the political imagination, but even the trade-UNIonist consciousness of the workers. On the other hand, the stunning silence of the Federation leadership on the issue of NCCRS, workers’ unity, etc is to be noted and the emphasis on routine union issues like cooperative bank elections, which gave the leaders money and muscle and marginalised the political sense of the workers, should also be considered.” This in retrospect--seems like a dress rehearsal for what the current Indian populous may be compelled to do. The Government then, managed to clamp down all efforts in a draconian manner. This however, may not remain true today. The Indians today, seem agitated, appalled, they are rising and raising one voice, together, and rightly so. The question is, how long will the Government be able to silence this voice?
 
What is the scenario regarding Railways in the rest of the world?
  1. In Britain, the railways were privatised in 1993. This however, did not yield great profits. In fact the Network Rail, the operator of the country’s rail infrastructure has reported that Britain’s railways are highly priced although the performance is much below par as compared to train systems in other developed nations 
  2.  In Germany, the 1994 ‘railway reform’ legislation aimed at attracting more traffic to the railway system, keeping control of costs and encouraging a more ‘commercial’ approach by the state-owned railway. It also provided for opening up a degree of competition in services, primarily freight and regional rail. Deutsch Bahn AG is a public limited company, all its shares are presently owned by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany 
  3. According to Trade Unionists Against the EU, The EU has recently made it mandatory for all 28 member states to privatise railways.  The European Council had already agreed that mandatory competitive tendering should be the main way of awarding public service contracts
  4. In Italy, the Government had entrusted the railways to five regional concessionaires. The arrangement did not work well and, long before it was due to expire, the railways were nationalized in 1905
  5. In the 1980s the process of privatizing Japanese National Railways had begun, is not entirely finished as of 2016
  6. Very recently, in May 2017, Pakistan Railways (PR) workers on held a demonstration against the anti-worker policies of the government. They had strong objection to the privatisation of passenger trains as they feel workers will be the worst losers
The Current Stance
On June 14, Sabrang India interviewed members of various trade and workers’ unions. Here is what our first interviewee, Amarjeet Kaur had to say, “The ruling Government is on a sell out spree. All national assets are being sold to make profits. Indian Railways is the biggest railway network in the world. It is a lifeline for the entire population whether the young or the old, rich or poor. Thus, making the railways private will cause immense damage to the Indian populous as a wholeThis move exposes the capitalist, pro corporate agenda of the Modi Government, further proving that he has no regard for the poor workers.” She then discussed the impact the move would have on passengers, she said, “With the private players coming in, there will be no accountability. The subsidies in prices of tickets that are now provided to the poor, elderly, will not be provided by the profit driven private players. Safety of passengers will remain a big question.

We also spoke to the representatives of the Northern Railway Men's Union, they said, “The private owners (thekedars) will only take not give. (Voh sirf sabki jaan nichodne aayenge). Further, on being asked about the impact on railway employees, they said, “The existing employees may not be removed. No new employees will be hired on regular hiring terms. The thekedars may make employment on contract basis.” 

The Hind Mazdoor Sabha, also stood against the privatization decision of the Government mainly for the cause of railway employees. They preferred to continue railway services under a Public Sector Undertaking.
 
In Conclusion
  • Having analysed the current railway system in India, its importance, compared with the systems of railway operations in other countries, we infer that the countries which underwent privatization of railways switched back to nationalization. Those considering privatization now, will soon enough realize that the pros are far less than the cons
  • The majority of the population, especially the marginalised poor, labourers, railway commuters, are against this move as they know they will be the worst hit. The need of the hour is for us to stand up in support of them. The truth about India is that, it is not defined by lightning fast trains but by its labour force, not by uniform development but by the deaths of the poor, not by the rich and pompous fraction but by the downtrodden, struggling majority. Thus, to truly enable India to develop, each part of India needs to develop. The entire population whether living in the metros or the remotest villages need to grow together. Privatisation of railways and other services is a move in the opposite direction. The Indian Railways is one of the few state owned enterprises which must not be privatized under any circumstances. We must all challenge the undemocratic decision taken to fulfil the capitalist agenda