The Modi Government’s first Rail Budget is a step in the direction of handing over the precious national asset of Indian Railways over to private interests and FDI – at the cost of the common passenger and the health of the Railways in general.
99% of Indian passengers demand safety, amenities, affordability and adequate availability of accommodation. The Modi Government’s budget sacrifices all of the above in the name of the fad of a ‘bullet train’ for a tiny minority.
One of the burning concerns of people has been the spate of Railway accidents. The Rail Budget of the new Government does nothing to address these concerns. The main reason for the repeated accidents has been the failure to fill up 3 lakh vacant posts, leading to a situation where the Railways lack adequate staff to carry out basic safety procedures, and drivers are overworked and forced to work long inhuman hours without sleep. The Kakodkar Committee Report on railway safety in 2012 had estimated that some 15000 people die every year in railway accidents and fires, and had termed this an unconscionable ‘massacre’. The Committee had recommended an expenditure of Rs 20000 crore per year on safety measures. The Rail Budget totally fails to allocate such an amount or outline measures to bring down accidents by employing sufficient staff, upgrading maintenance, and shifting to fire-resistant materials in coaches.
In the name of shortage of funds, the Railways are being privatised through the PPP route and by introducing 100% FDI in Railways. The experience of airports has shown that PPP is a gateway for corruption and for facilitating exploitation of a public asset for private profits, inevitably leading to greater cost burden borne by the passenger and no improvement in efficiency, safety or comfort.
The Rail Minister has admitted that only one out of 99 projects sanctioned in the last decade has been completed – but has failed to outline a comprehensive plan to complete these projects.
The Rail Budget has tried to divert attention from its failures in these crucial areas by highlighting the Bullet trains.
Are the Railways short of funds, necessitating privatisation and FDI? On December 31 last year, the Times of India reported that a CAG test audit revealed that iron ore exporters had cheated the Railways of close to Rs 50,000 crore during 2008-12 (as reported by RUPE in its January 2014 Report ‘The Truth about the Railways’). The iron ore exporters illegally availed of the subsidised rates offered for those moving iron ore for domestic consumption. The RUPE report had observed “Thus, in order to provide a giant subsidy to firms plundering the country’s natural resources, the Government starves Railways of safety and developmental expenditures, in which the travelling public and the Railway workers have a common interest.”
Even before the Rail Budget, rail passenger and freight fares were massively hiked. Fares will also go up with every increase in fuel prices, since the Budget links future fare increases with fuel adjustment.
The Rail Budget is a blueprint for privatisation and corporatisation, imposing greater burdens on common people and displaying complete callousness to the existing crisis of passenger safety and rail workers’ conditions.
– Central Committee, CPI(ML)