Privatisation of Railway Stations – Bane or Boon?

Of late, we are seeing world-class stations coming up on Indian Railways. Gandhinagar Railway station in Gujarat and Habibganj Railway Station in Madhya Pradesh are two examples of privatisation of railway stations. These two stations are being re-developed to world-class airport style stations with all modern facilities. The work on both the stations are nearing completion, and will be opened for public use very soon. More railway stations, New Delhi, Bijwasan and Chandigarh are expected to follow the lines of Gandhinagar and Habibganj.

Indian Railways Station Development Corporation or IRSDC is looking after maintenance, modernisation as well as privatisation of railway stations in India. IRSDC is favouring the PPP model as it can relieve the Railways from funding with a huge capital needed to build up a station, which the Railways lacks at present. Under the PPP or Public-Private-Partnership model, the railways will lease the station and land to a private company, which will build up, operate, and take the profit out of it for a while, and hand over the station back to Indian Railways after a fixed period of time. The fixed period of time has been fixed at 99 years as of now.

The lease period, the fixed period in which the private company will operate the station, was previously 45 years. After not getting good response from private companies, the Railways decided to increase the lease period to the present 99 years. However, except for a few, this proposal also did not attract private players much, and hence except a few, the Railways are planning to go back to the old EPC or engineering procurement, construction model. In this model, Railways will fund the cost of redevelopment which will be done by a private company, and will be handed back to the Railways once construction is complete.

As long as ticket fares remain constant, along with basic hygiene and maintenance, there is no complaint on privatisation of stations. But now ticket prices of redeveloped, or to-be-redeveloped stations are going to increase. Despite the success of redevelopment of Gandhinagar and Habibganj Railway stations, the importance of such redevelopment is no match of that in Sir Visvesvaraya terminal in Byappanahalli, Bengaluru, or Manduadih railway station in Varanasi, now called Banaras railway station. The last two stations were renovated by Indian Railways on its own. More such examples can be Dharwad railway station in Karnataka, Santragachhi in West Bengal, or Ayodhya Junction in UP. We now have to see whether the private stations can stood up with time with so many modern aesthetic stations coming up in Indian Railways, or they fell into disrepair, as had happened with Delhi Airport Metro Line or Gurgaon metro.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Air India Comes Back to Tata

Air India makes a comeback to its founders after 68 years. In 1932, J. R. D. Tata founded Tata Air Services, later renamed Tata Airlines, which is the precursor of Air India. Back then, J.R.D Tata, an Indian aviator as well as a business aspirant, started flying between Madras and Karachi via Bombay and Ahmedabad. More destinations, such as Colombo and Delhi have been added soon after, and Tata Airlines soon became a popular choice of airways.

Tata Airlines expanded beyond the borders of India to foreign countries, and it did well to connect every nook and corner of the country back in the pre-independence era. It also contributed to World War 2, giving aeroplanes for military evacuation services to the Royal Air Force. After Independence, the Government of India took a 49% stake in Tata Airlines, which now came to be known as Air India, and in 1953, PM Jawaharlal Nehru nationalised Tata Airlines by passing the Air Corporations Act.

In a way, after 68 long years after 1953, Tata is all set to acquire the renowned air carrier. Initial attempts to make Air India private started way back in 2001. However, it got delayed, and Air India started to operate on losses which became a huge burden to the Government of India. Finally, 100% privatisation of Air India was looked upon as the best solution for Air India. The complete privatisation process is expected to take place by December 2021. Tata will be the sole owner of Air India as of now.

Privatisation has been a theatre of debate in the recent past when India is moving towards capitalism and looking to privatise its stakes in Government sectors. While private sectors will call for better facilities, greater passenger amenities, and user friendly, it has also irked some employees who feel their jobs are not secure anymore. Privatisation may also weaken a transportation company like Air India, which may opt for cancellation of loss-making routes, or shut down services. The main question is whether Air India after privatisation can operate from the most remote parts of the country, and win confidence among the employees. Let us know your opinion in the comment section below.