The Central government’s decision to speed up the privatisation process of Indian Railways has drawn sharp criticism from Unions and railway officials alike.
Recently, the Centre decided to merge seven coach factories into a single entity as part of the Railway’s privatisation process. The General Secretary (GS) of the Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU) Tapan Sen, described the plan “a criminal act by the government.”
He said that unifying several coach factories into a single unit would corporatise the production unit which would only benefit the corporate companies taking over the railway sector. As per a statement released by the CITU, production units are claimed as ‘the gems of Indian Railways.’ Even the government acknowledges this, yet insists on giving the contract for these factories to multinational companies.
According to a report by Desh Abhimani; Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, Varanasi Diesel Locomotive Works, Patiala Diesel Loco Modernisation Works, Chennai Integral Coach Factory, Kapurthala Railcoach Factory, Bengaluru Wheel And Axle Factory and Rae Bareli Modern Rail Coach Factory are to be merged into a single company with all of government stake sold off eventually. Railway lands at various places will be handed in long-term leases.
The procedures to sell off coach and locomotive factories after first privatising stations has already begun. Moreover, 151 private trains will be introduced and private participation in the cargo corridor will be encouraged.
Sen also explained how the setting up of seven to nine corporate committees instead of a single railway network will destroy the smooth functioning of Railways. “Once these individual committees are made, they will start competing with one another. This will destroy the synergy of the railway sector which in turn will mean that non-revenue generating sectors will be closed down. This will leave people high and dry as has been done before,” said Sen.
As per the Desh Abhimani article, Railway Board Chairman V.K. Yadav was promoted to the post of Chief Executive Officer (CEO.) Similar several major posts on the Board were scrapped that dealt with departments handling staff, engineering and materials management, and will likely get taken by corporate representatives in days ahead.
Sen said that there have been previous examples in countries like England and Argentina, where private companies had to retreat from public transport sectors due to social unrest. Despite these cases, the government has continued with its decision that will take away the job of many railway workers.
He pointed out that many vacancies already exist in Railways. Still the government intends to remove nearly 50 percent of its employees. However, Sen argued that this problem is not restricted to railway employment alone. It will have a ripple effect in other sectors like vending or affect sectors that depend on railways for the transport of commodities.
While an estimated 3.5 lakh jobs could be on the chopping block, according to Chairperson of Railway Pravasi Group Harsha Shah, the figure could be higher. Shah says that this decision puts the jobs of as many as 10 lakh people employed in Railways at risk!
“The people who hold posts of Station Manager and above have nothing to fear. However, the employment of the rest of the employees is now uncertain,” she said.
Building on this idea, Chairperson Shah said, “Railways have been a relief for everyone, especially the poor. If we hand it over to the private sector, people’s pockets are going to become empty. They have cancelled 500 trains for which they will now bring in their own trains with new fares.” These fares would be too expensive for the working class of the country.
Few Unions like the DREU, All India Loco Running Staff Association, Station Master & Guard Associations have voiced their dissent against the decision. The CITU protest held in July saw a large number of Railway employees from Kashmir to Kanyakumari participate in outcry against Centre’s sell-out tactics, said the Desh Abhimani article.
Meanwhile, the Divisional Railway Users’ Consultative Committee (DRUCC) member and activist Mansoor Umer Darvesh said the government intends to sell everything in an effort to make up for its losses.
“The new private contractors will apply their own laws,” he said stating that this will add to the pre-existing problem of unemployment.
Regarding the Centre’s insistence that this plan will help Railways generate revenue, Sen said, “The operational revenue may be shared by the corporates and Railways. However, the commercial revenue will be pocketed completely by the corporates.”
Similarly, Chairperson Shah said, “Every year, Railways have generated nearly 90,000 crore revenue for the Centre. Not a single penny from that revenue was used for Railways’ benefit. Now they want to hand Railways to the private sector. There’s a misgiving that the corporations will help Railways. They will sell the government if necessary. Railways should remain in the public sector. This decision of the Centre is wrong.”