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PRIVATIZATION OF INDIAN RAILWAYS

At the beginning of July 2020, The Ministry Of Railways has set in motion its plan of privatization of Railways by flagging off the Tejas Express running on the route between Lucknow and Delhi.

The Ministry of Railways invited an RFQ (request for qualification) application from interested parties for the operation of the private trains across the Country.

Around 151 modern-day trains are to be introduced and 109 pairs of routes are to be identified. In a press statement, the Indian Railways said that each train will have a minimum of 16 coaches. The project is set to bring an investment of Rs. 30,000 Crore from the private sector.

These modern-day trains will be high speed designed for a maximum speed of 160 km/h resulting in a decrement of Journey time.

The Railway Board in a statement said, “the objective of the initiative was to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, provide world-class travel experience to passengers, and also reduce the demand-supply deficit in the passenger transportation sector.”

It has also been mentioned that the majority of these trains shall be manufactured in India under the “Make in India” project.

The Ministry also announced that the Private establishments will pay energy charges according to consumption, and fixed haulage charges, and a share in gross revenue determined through a transparent bidding process. These entities shall be responsible for financing, procuring operations, and maintenance of the trains.

In an Interview with the Print, Railway Board Chairman V.K. Yadav had said, “Private players will not get operations — driver, guard, safety certification, infrastructure will remain with railways.”

He further stated, “Private players will only get on-board services — entertainment, food, cleanliness, passenger amenities, fare collection.”

Many believe that this privatization of railways will harm the common man, as it will lead to split responsibility and dual control, and eventually higher fares.

The Indian Railways has already mentioned in its project information memorandum that the private entities will be allowed to decide the fares that are to be charged from the passengers.

The Railways in a statement said, “Gross revenue will include the amount from preferred seat options, baggage/luggage, cargo/parcel (if not included in the ticket fare), amount from on-board services such as catering, bedroll, content on-demand, Wi-Fi (if not included in the ticket fare) and any amount accruing to the concessionaire on account of advertising, branding and naming rights pursuant to the concession agreement.

The calculation of revenue shall exclude station user fees collected from the users, and all statutory applicable indirect taxes and levies which the concessionaire is bound to pay.

Countries like The UK and Japan have privatized their railway networks not partially, but completely. But most countries have refrained from doing so, for public convenience.

However, in a tweet on 9th July, Railway Minister, Piyush Goyal, refuted these accusations and asserted on the fact that these additional services will not affect the functioning of other trains in any way, but will only create more employment opportunities for this country.

But experts think differently, Former Railway Board Member, Ajay Shukla remarked that Tejas Express saw very low occupancy due to high fares. In the discussion, Shukla said, “My question is very simple, what does the common passenger have to gain out of this?”

Experts say that increasing passenger trains will badly impact freight trains when the latter accounts for 67% of the earnings of the Indian Railways.

VN Mathur, Former Railway Board Member said that freight trains may get affected since the country has limited lines on which we will see a higher number of trains running.

As it now seems, this project is set to benefit the Railways more than the common man, since according to its estimate the Indian Railways would require a funding of Rs. 50 Lakh Crore for the next 12 years of operations.

Besides this, there is also the issue with railway lines not supporting speed up to 160 km/h. The existing routes are speed limited to 110 km/h, and very few permit speeds of 120-130 km/h.

For this project to be successful, there has to be track strengthening, curves elimination, strengthening of bridges, and leveling of crossing gates.

Track fencing needs to be done in densely populated areas for safety.

None of these issues, even come close to the fact that the people who will be able to afford a seat on these trains, might consider flying to the destination a more feasible choice.

The most important part of a new project is always the execution and not the planning. And the present government has to see to the fact that this project does not end up like many of its previous reforms.

Aanandita Singh

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