Demanding that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) central government rescind its plans to privatise Indian Railways, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), joined by railways employees and other mass organisations, started their two-day national protest across states on Thursday.
In opposition to the Railway Ministry’s exercise for a competitive bidding process for selecting private entities for operating passenger train services at over 109 pairs of stations, in the last two weeks, hundreds of decentralised protest demonstrations have been organised across railway stations by railways’ employees, workers and trade unions in spite of restrictions on mobilisations due to the pandemic.
Opposition parties including Congress, CPI(M), CPI, and other Left parties, Trinamool Congress and DMK have outrightly denounced the privatisation move on multiple grounds.
Railways Ministry has been claiming that private participation through this move would raise about Rs 30,000 crore, which would be used for the modernisation of the national transporter and would generate employment. On the other hand, railways’ unions and trade unions are arguing that the move will only add losses to the railways.
“The government claims of Rs 30,000 crore investment and employment generation have no meaning as the drainage due to the loss of revenue to the Indian Railways in these revenue-generating routes and high-speed trains will more than neutralise the said hypothetical figure,” points out Tapan sen, general secretary, CITU.
Sen says that the employment lost due to privatisation of production units, the jewels of Indian Railways, in the railway workshops, and in the maintenance units will be many times more than the employment created by the private players. “Most of the jobs that will be created will be precarious jobs, not permanent jobs with decent wages and social security.”
All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF), the largest recognised trade union in the national transporter, and even the RSS affiliate trade union Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh have earlier demanded that the government take steps to cancel the proposal to privatise 109 routes. AIRF has urged the railway board to cancel the bidding process threatening with an indefinite strike, while BMS has observed a week-long protest demonstration across a handful of states.
“The two-day protest will be followed by a joint meeting of all central trade unions to decide upon the future course of action of the trade union movements on the privatisation of railways and other anti-people policies of the BJP government,” said AR Sindhu of CITU.
On Thursday morning, CITU national leadership joined a protest demonstration in front of the Rail Bhavan’ in New Delhi.
The South Central Railway Mazdoor Union (SCRMU) affiliated to AIRF held protest rallies across Telugu states last week opposing privatisation while claiming to go for an indefinite strike against the government’s privatisation push. The union is planning an indefinite strike on the 109 train routes to be opened for private players.
Dakshin Railway Employees Union (DREU), affiliated to CITU, has organised protests in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In Telugu states, CITU and affiliated mass organisations have joined the protests at railway stations.
In West Bengal, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) held protest demonstrations across districts against privatisation and the closure of vacant posts in the railways.
The last major strike by railway employees and workers that continued for three weeks from May 8-28, 1974, under the aegis of AIRF, was considered one of the major railway strikes in Asia.
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