No corporate structure for railways: Mamata

No corporate structure for railways: Mamata



Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee

Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday ruled out corporatisation of the country's railroad network but said the private sector's participation can be considered for commercial use of railway land for areas like healthcare and education institutions. I'm always in favour of our employees.

I'll be the last person to do it," Banerjee said in her reply to the debate on the railway budget, referring to demands for corporatisation of some of the services and larger role for private sector in overall development Indian Railways.

The minister said a blue print was being drawn to totally revamp the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp but added there was no need to outsource food and beverage operations offered inside trains and stations.

Her comments put a question mark over the proposal in Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's national budget to divest part stake in RITES, formerly the Rail India Technical and Economic Services Limited - a public sector enterprise under the railways ministry.

"Tourism can be looked at," Banerjee said on the issue of allowing outside agencies to supplement the efforts of Indian Railways. "But there is no need to outsource food. We will departmentalise it," she said in her 50-minute reply.

The lower house later passed by voice vote the various demands for grants of the railways as also the various appropriation bills to help the government draw money to run the department till such time the budget is passed.

Banerjee while advocating greater utilisation of vacant land banks of the railways, said that these were lying idle or being encroached upon.

"Our department is preparing the details and will finish it in 10 days. But we do have more than three lakh (300,000) acres" said Banerjee.

"We cannot sell the land. But what is the problem in commercial utilisation?" she queried and said institutions such as medical and nursing colleges, hospitals and other institutes of higher education.

Banerjee also announced that an expert group was being constituted to look at drawing up various business plans that will help in the revamp and improve the efficiency of Indian Railways - the second largest railroad network under single management.

Then group, she said would be headed by Amit Mitra, secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), with members from organisations like ICICI Bank and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Banerjee said she believed in both national developments of Indian Railways which employs some 1.4 million people, as well as local representation. She promised 50 per cent employment in the various railways organisations to local population.

Banerjee's budget particularly invited praise from members across parties for a new scheme "izzat" for passengers to travel with dignity. Under this, people in unorganized sector with monthly income of up to Rs.1,500 can get monthly seasons ticket at Rs 25 for travel up to 100 km.

The network of Indian Railways spans of 108,706 km, to ferry some 14 million passengers on 7,000 trains daily from 6,906 stations. It also runs 4,000 freight trains to carry nearly 850 millions of cargo each year.

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