The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has opposed the government’s proposal to rope in private players to run passenger trains. The privatisation measures have been proposed by the re-elected Modi government as a part of its 100 days Action Plan of the Ministry of Railways.
In a press statement released on Saturday, June 22, the union criticised the government for privatising the cheapest mode of transport available today for the people and has called upon all the federations as well as unions of the railway employees to “mobilise their entire strength through united actions to stop such disastrous measures”.
On June 19, NewsClick reported on how the government is “seriously” planning to invite private players to run trains. The proposal stands in clear contradiction to the statements of two Union Railway Ministers of the previous NDA government.
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The Action Plan also proposes to launch a massive ‘Give it up’ campaign urging people to give up the subsidy while booking a railway ticket.
Alleging that this would lead to increase in railway fares, the press statement says that reducing subsidies and hiking fares will only benefit private players who would be running trains for profits.
The move is against the interest of the majority of railway passengers who belong to poor and low income sections.
Even the plan to corporatise the units that manufacture coaches, including the associated workshops, is an attempt to kill the public sector’s indigenous manufacturing capacity by handing over production to the private players, the press statement added.
The Modi government has been very consistent in blatantly ignoring the voices of the trade unions on several issues.
On Friday, over 300 railway employees gathered in a Western Railway Mazdoor Sangh - Vadodara (WRMS) meeting to oppose the move of the Railway Board to entrust a railway colony to Railway Land Development Authority (RLDA) for re-development and commercial exploitation.
Railway Board, in a letter dated June 4, has asked 70 divisions of Indian railways to surrender one old colony for commercial purpose.
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“How can the railway employees vacate their quarters suddenly when no alternate arrangement has been made for them by the railway ministry?,” Times of India quoted WRMS general secretary J G Mahurkar as saying.
Earlier, as Newsclick had reported, the government had taken a decision to auction 23 railway stations across the country to the private firms. This has allowed the allowed private players to commercially exploit railways’ land by building malls, cinema halls, hotels and hospitals within the station premises.
The ruling government ministers often quote Debroy Committee to justify the privatisation and corporatisation of the railways.
Constituted in September 2014, the objective of the committee was to prepare a blueprint for reforming the Indian Railways. The committee recommended corporatisation of the railway board and private sector participation in the form of service contracts, management contracts, and leasing to the private sector, among other things.
However, after studying the consequences of such widespread privatisation of public goods in countries like UK, United Nations has concluded that it leads to systemic elimination of human rights protections and further marginalisation of those living in poverty.
The government whose ministers often call for the railways to reach the “poorest of the poor” must debate on who will be the actual beneficiary of such reforms – will it be few private players or an overwhelming majority of people who depend on Indian Railways for their commutes.