Rly panel for fare hike, privatisation

Trade unions decry report, announce strike

Rly panel for fare hike, privatisation

The High-Level Committee on Restructuring of Railways, headed by Bibek Debroy in its report to the Ministry of Railways on Friday, has recommended among other things increase in passenger fare, operation of trains by private players and decentralisation of administration.

The report says: “Cross-subsidisation of low passenger fares with artificially high freight rates has led to a shift in favour of road transport for both freight and short-distance passenger traffic. It needs to be recognised that most passengers are willing to pay higher fares, albeit only if accompanied by enhanced services.”

The committee has also criticised the Railways' decision-making process. It has said many decisions, like increase in fare, introduction of new trains, and provision of halts and establishment of projects, are not taken on the basis of commercial considerations.

The panel has strongly recommended entry of private players in running trains. It has also recommended establishment of a regulator—the Railway Regulatory Authority of India—independent of the Railway Ministry. The committee also wants on-board catering through large food chains and local restaurants on payment of modest licence fee. It has also recommended leasing of parcel vans and private parcel trains. The report says Railways should abandon activities that are not part of its core functions, like owning the Railway Protection Force and the Railway Protection Special Force, running schools and maintaining hospitals.

The committee has also recommended minimising the role of the Railway Board to a policy-making body, and full autonomy to the zones.

The recommendations have evoked strong opposition among trade unions, leading to both important unions—the All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF) and the National Federation of Indian Railways (NFIR)—declaring their programmes of protest. AIRF general secretary Shiv Gopal Mishra announced observance of a Black Day on June 30. He said: “We will not allow privatisation of Railways at any cost.” He said a week-long campaign against the report would be launched from June 23.

NIFR general secretary M Raghavaiah said the Committee had recommended privatisation in the name of liberalisation. He called on fellow union members to organise gate meetings and other protests to oppose the recommendations.

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