Lucknow: Terming it as the “final nail in the coffin towards privatisation”, railway unions have threatened to launch protests against the government’s move of privatising 14 inquiry centres of the North Eastern Railways (NER) including the Varanasi division.
As per reports, the tender has been given to a Patna-based private firm, 'Web Tech International Company' for a period of three years from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2024. The North Eastern Railway administration has signed a contract with the company which has started its service on July 1. The employees of the private company were trained before the new system was implemented on Thursday, July 1.
The inquiry centres at A-1, A, B and D category stations of North Eastern Railway including Manduadih and Varanasi City Station of Varanasi Division have been handed over to private hands, after the works of information transmission of trains and feeding of guidance system on the platform. The inquiry centres provide complete information about the movement of the train to the passengers.
The reason cited behind this move by the North Eastern Railway administration is shortage of staff at the inquiry centre. The administration said that due to shortage of staff, employees of other departments are deputed to run the PA (Public Address System) and inquiry centres, hampering their work. It further stated that the decision has been taken keeping in mind the passenger amenities.
"Tender in this regard was issued in the year 2019-2020. Three companies had shown interest but the process remained incomplete due to COVID-19. The tender was finalised after selecting the private agency," an NER official said.
Meanwhile, railway employees and staff of inquiry centres have expressed anguish over the government’s move. They have demanded a complete withdrawal of the decision, stating that privatisation is an insult to the railway workers who sacrificed their lives working amid pandemic. According to the workers, the privatisation of railways is being done by the government "secretly" so that they can not resist the move.
Visheshwar Rai, state president of North Eastern Railway Mazdoor Sangh, said that employees who are hired on a contractual basis will also be exploited after privatisation. “The contractor will take the entire payment from the government but deduct the payment of employees,” he added.
"We are opposing the government's move of privatisation of public sector undertakings (PSUs) since starting. After giving inquiry centres of Varanasi division to a Bihar based private firm, it would certainly degrade the quality and service of railways. It is not because the NER administration has given the tender to a private player of Bihar, not Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh but the quality always degrades after handing to private hands,” he said.
“The passengers will be deprived of the service they should be given with this move. It will be no wonder if the employees of private firm start misbehaving with passengers," Rai, a railway employee based in Varanasi, told NewsClick, adding that most of the employees hired by the private firm are untrained, not qualified and work on minimum wages between Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000.
Further, outsourcing work will lead to people losing trust in the valuable service that Indian Railways has always provided to the citizens of this country, according to him. "Indian Railways which was running in profit for years without any private hands has now become a loss making segment after the BJP government came to power at the Centre. The government did the same with BSNL as well," he said.
Explaining the motive behind the government’s move, Rai said, "They (government) are intentionally incurring losses for Indian Railways and giving such projects to its capitalist friends so that the government can avail all perks including money during elections in the country."
Another railway employee and a member of North Eastern Railwaymen's Congress, Akhilesh said, "The process of outsourcing the inquiry centres is a fraud with the railway workers as well as the general public. Outsourcing is being adopted bypassing the way railway workers served during the COVID-19 crisis, when more than 2,000 railway workers sacrificed their lives."
Last year, the Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW), a premier locomotive manufacturing unit of Indian Railways in Varanasi, was renamed as Banaras Locomotive Works (BLW), through a gazette notification dated October 27, 2020. The move was alleged as a political gimmick for privatisation, as alleged by the central trade unions. It was also opposed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, which had termed it as an anti-labour policy.
“The government is privatising all public sector enterprises under anti-labour policies. They want to make workers slaves of industrialists. The government is trying to justify the privatisation of PSUs as it needs money to run the government machinery,” the BMS had then said in a statement.