For a very long time, railway workers have been fighting against the privatisation of Indian Railways that successive governments have carried out part by part. Recognising that it is very important to involve the users of the service, the passengers in this fight, several organisations joined the initiative of Kamgar Ekta Committee and Lok Raj Sangathan in disseminating the following statement.
All India Guards Council (AIGC), All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA), All India Rail Trackmaintainers Union (AIRTU), All India Station Masters Association (AISMA), All India Traffic Controllers Association (AITCA), Communist Ghadar Party of India, Indian Railway Ticket Checking Staff Organisation (IRTCSO), Air India Service Engineers Association(AISEA), All India Bank Employees Association(AIBEA), Awaz e Niswan, Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI), Innocence Network, Trade Unions Joint Action Committee- Maharashtra(TUJAC), Thane Matadar Jagran Abhiyan (TMJA), Purogami Mahila Sangathan
As we go to the press, more and more unions of railway workers and organisations of citizens are joining the campaign.
Dear Rail Passengers,
The Rail Ministry has announced two steps having a direct and very harmful impact on rail passengers as a part of the 100-day Action plan of the newly elected government:
- Remove the subsidy on passenger fares
- Handover the operation of two existing trains to IRCTC immediately and later on invite private operators to run Rajadhani, Shatabdi as well as other premium trains.
Removal of subsidy would result in substantial increases in present passenger fares. If passenger fare keeps increasing year after year, how many of us would be able to afford it?
Passenger fares are subsidized all over the world because providing affordable rail service is considered to be a socially necessary public service. The government cannot look at such essential public services as a source of profit. More than 810 crore passengers use Indian Railways every year. More than 1 crore people in metro cities use rail services every day to travel between their homes and places of work. The average subsidy per passenger by Indian Railways is only Rs. 37 rupees whereas subsidy per passenger in France is Rs. 900 and Rs. 600 in Germany!
Railways have been claiming for many years that they incur a loss of Rs. 30,000 crore every year due to subsidizing passenger fares. How can we accept that the government cannot afford to spend Rs. 30,000 crore for tens of crores people using Indian Railways, when it wrote off Rs. 250,000 crore (which is more than 8 times of passenger subsidy) of bank loans of just a few hundred richest capitalists of the country in just one year of 2018-19?
Moreover, passenger fare subsidy is coming out of the taxes that we the Indian people pay, so it is our money which is being spent on us. In our country even the poorest person pays tax by way of GST whenever he or she buys anything in the market. The loan write-off for a few hundred richest is also being done out of the taxes we pay or out of our savings in banks.
We have to insist that it is the duty of the government to ensure that rail fares are affordable by crores of workers, peasants, small traders, hawkers and all other users!
In Mumbai city we have the example of the BEST bus service which saw the number of passengers fall from a peak of 40 lakh to 25 lakh per day. When the minimum fare was reduced from Rs. 8 to Rs. 5 a few months back, the number of passengers jumped by 40 percent within ten days! The minimum fare charged by the privately-run Mumbai Metro is double of the fare charged by local trains; the fare of Mumbai Metro is four times the local train fare for the same distance covered by Mumbai Metro between its two terminuses.
The second step is a step towards privatization of passenger train services. Two trains are immediately being handed over to the IRCTC, Tejas Express between Delhi and Lucknow and the proposed Tejas Express between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The IRCTC has been given freedom to decide the fare for these trains. The privatization of the IRCTC has already begun with the recent announcement of the sale of its shares to private investors. The plan has already been announced to later hand over the operation of Rajdhani, Shatabdi and other prestigious trains to private companies.
As we all know, making maximum profit with the least investment is always the motive of a capitalist. The privatization of rail passenger services will therefore result in
- Big increases in fares
- Dynamic fare policy, i.e., higher the demand, higher the fares
- Curtailment of services on non-profitable routes and during non-peak hours
- No concessions (that are currently given to students, old people, differently-abled people, etc.)
- No season tickets (metros do not have these)
- Payment for every service like water, toilets, bed rolls, etc.
- Minimized maintenance to cut cost which would compromise safety.
When the British Rail was privatized this is what actually happened. British Rail fares are the highest in Europe. After the privatization of British Railways in the early 1990s, passenger fares more than doubled on the average, and more than tripled on many routes in two decades. Monthly season tickets in Britain now cost ten times those in France where the rail system is run by the French government. Rail travel in Britain is slower and more overcrowded than the predominantly publicly-owned rail services in Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
When profit is the primary motive, safety is neglected. This is exactly what happened in Argentina. After the privatization of railways, the severity and frequency of accidents increased sharply. The situation became so dangerous that the people forced the Government of Argentina to reverse privatization of the railway system in 2015!
All over our country, private buses are the most unsafe. No state government has curbed their dangerous conduct.
All of us know that track maintenance is crucial for safe rail travel. It is carried out by track maintainers in the most adverse circumstances. As many as 70 thousand positions out of the 3 lakh track maintainers required to ensure proper maintenance have been kept vacant by the Indian Railways. In their place, private contractors have been given the task. These private contractors employ untrained contract workers as track maintainers at one third or one fourth of regular track maintainers’ wages. Rail safety is the obvious casualty. The number of derailments and consequent deaths and injuries has already shot up. Privatization will further jeopardize passenger safety.
The Indian Railways has already been taking a number of steps towards privatization by way of out-sourcing and corporatization of various activities which are neither in the interests of passengers nor of rail workers.
The government wants to convince us to support the privatization of Indian Railways by claiming that private operators will bring in the necessary finances to improve railway services. Are we so stupid to believe that private companies, whose only focus is to maximize profits at any cost, will spend money in renewing old infrastructure to improve passenger comfort and safety? We have the experience of Argentina before us!
So, dear Rail Passengers let us not be fooled by false promises and justifications for the privatization of Indian Railways. Let us oppose any direct or indirect effort in the direction of privatization and demand its reversal. Let us extend our support to the lakhs of railway workers who are already opposing the 100 Day Action Plan towards privatization of Indian Railways!