Bharat Gaurav Train ‘Loots’ Passengers, Step Closer to ‘Privatisation’ of Railways
DREU members protest inside the Coimbatore Railway Station against the operation of private trains.
The Dakshin Railway Employees Union (DREU) has said that the launch of Bharat Gaurav Trains is an ominous sign of total privatisation of the Railways in the years to come. The Bharatiya Janata Party government has been formulating different policies, including the National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) and the National Rail Plan (NRP), to dole out several public sector enterprises to private companies.
The earlier plan to privatise 150 trains along 101 routes in 12 sectors did not materialise due to the revenue-sharing clause. Only two players, including the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), had submitted bids for the scheme with very low revenue sharing, resulting in the tender committee cancelling the bids.
In the Bharat Gaurav scheme, the revenue-sharing clause has been removed, sparking interest from private companies. The operators need to pay only for the right to use and haulage charges while enjoying the freedom to fix tariffs, halts, services and routes.
The South Star Rail, the first such train connecting Coimbatore to Shirdi, was flagged off on June 14 amid massive publicity, but the passengers shared unpleasant experiences during their five-day trip.
Subsequently, the DREU and several political parties protested the Centre’s privatisation plans and demanded immediate withdrawal of the scheme.
NO INCOME FOR RAILWAYS
DREU leader R Elangovan said that the Railways junked the revenue-sharing clause due to the lack of patronage from the corporate sector.
“Only two companies, IRCTC and Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (MEIL) participated in the bidding only for three clusters owing to the revenue-sharing condition. The IRCTC quoted the maximum of 18% in one route and MEIL just 0.54% in one route, leading to the cancellation of the bids,” Elangovan told Newsclick.
“As per the new conditions, an operator can take one rake with the required number of air-conditioned, sleeper and SLR coaches at the cost of Rs 1 crore as security deposit. In addition, the operator has to pay fixed haulage of Rs 76 lakh for three months and variable haulage charges of Rs 40 lakh. These amounts are only for using the facilities and do not amount to income to the Railways,” explained Elangovan.
Elangovan claimed that the amount paid by the operators “in this case, Santiago Martin Group (Future Gaming & Hotel Services Pvt Ltd.), which donated Rs 100 crore to the BJP for elections”, are only for incurred expenditure, not income.
PASSENGERS ‘LOOTED’ IN THE NAME OF PACKAGE
The freedom to fix fares together with the packages is also helping the operators to charge exorbitant fares. The operator offers the package for accommodation and visiting the Shirdi temple.
Details of fare collected in the Coimbatore-Shirdi Bharat Gaurav Rail
(The rail fares for the existing indirect trains are almost half of the fares fixed by the operator) (Source: IRCTC website, advertisement by the operator)
“For the 1,100 berths in the train, the Railways would have collected Rs 28 lakh while the operator has collected around Rs 44 lakh only from fares. Through the package system, the operator earns around Rs 25 lakh after spending on providing accommodation. In this way, the private operator gets a profit of Rs 41 lakh per trip,” Elangovan further explained.
The package does not include food and darshan at Mantralayam, where the train stops for five hours. “By permitting such high fares, the Railways is allowing private players to loot devotees,” Elangovan alleged.
Members of Parliament from the DMK and CPI(M) and trade unions, including the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) have voiced their concerns over the privatisation move of the BJP government.
Another such train connecting India to Nepal was flagged off from the Delhi Safdarjung Railway Station on Tuesday. It will run on the Ramayana Circuit identified under the Swadesh Darshan scheme, which covers prominent places associated with the life of Lord Ram. Another train from Madurai to Prayagraj is scheduled to start.
UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF RAILWAYS
The Railways revenue is expected to dry up if the Bharat Gaurav trains continue and are extended to other routes. “Through the NRP, the Railways has announced the plans to privatise all goods and profit-making passenger trains. The Railways plan to operate only strategic trains and routes. This way, the Railways will not have any income,” Elangovan said.
The BJP government continues to flip-flop on policies. After promising not to privatise the Railways, the government has rolled out privatisation plans. After announcing the NMP to generate revenue for investing in infrastructure development, the government has again decided to sell off national assets under different schemes.
“This government neither is neither patriotic nor spiritual; they are only devotees of corporate players. Only a sustained struggle and participation of the common people can save national assets,” Elangovan said.
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