Railways privatization will badly hit commoners

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KRISHNA MOHAN
JAMMU: Privatization of the Indian Railways will hit the common man adversely. It has been estimated that the passenger traffic of the Indian Railways was above 8 billion in the fiscal year 2019. This amounted to transporting 23 million passengers on a daily basis. No other transport system in the country serves so many passengers, that too belonging to mostly the upper and the lower middle class and the poor. .
The railway network in India has been forecast to become the third largest in the world in the coming five years. Apart from carrying passengers, the railway carried over one billion metric tonnes of freight across the country in 2019. The country had over 9000 goods trains in operation. Freight transport volume per day was above 3 million metric tonnes as of March 2020. Freight traffic was also the major source of revenue for the Indian Railways.
By the end of FY 2022, freight traffic via dedicated freight corridors is projected to increase at a compound annual rate of over 5 per cent.
Founded in the 19th century when the first passenger train took 400 people from Mumbai to Thane for a 1.6 km journey, the Indian Railways has grown by leaps and bounds. In 1895, the country started building own locomotives. Steam engines were abandoned and electric and diesel engines took over later. The Indian Railways witnessed a booming period after Independence, which saw further modernization of trains.
The Indian Railways is also the biggest public sector employer, giving jobs to millions of people countrywide. According to Wikipedia, the Indian Railways has a route length of 68,155 km as in March 2019 and employs 13,08,000 people as in 2016-17.
While the total revenue of the Indian Railways amounts to Rs. 1.9 trillion, the export value of railway transport equipment is estimated to be 502.7 million US dollars. The value of HS Code 86 exports to neighbouring countries is estimated at 38 million US dollars.
The metros and monorails running in cities alone carry lakhs of passengers daily to their work places and back. The metros alone attracted investments of over 120 million US dollars between 2018 and 2021, it is estimated.
The catering service of the railways is another source of income. The railways also plays a big role in development of tourism in the country.
So, what could be the reason for the government to privatize the Indian Railways, the public sector leviathan? The only answer that comes to one’s mind is gross mismanagement. Let us not forget the fact Lalu Prasad Yadav, when he was the Railway Minister, had managed to make the ever loss-making Indian Railways run on profit!
In Britain, the railways were privatized during the John Major Government and a new office Rail Regulator was created. Ever since, there has been strong opposition to the move and its success is highly debated. In 2001, a significant change came with the collapse of Railtrack, which saw its assets being passed to the state-owned Network Rail, and track maintenance was also brought under Network Rail in 2004. The regulatory structures have also subsequently been changed.
Let us not enter into a debate whether the Indian Railways are making profits or not. The fact remains that it is the most popular mode of transport for millions of common people in India. Privatization will not only be against their interests, but will also put them to great inconvenience. It is the duty of the government to provide affordable transportation to the people. Doing so will only increase its popularity and public support.