Dr P. Pullarao
Governments in India made a mess of public sector enterprises and then want to sell them off. Naturally, the public companies are sold at cheap prices. Those who buy them usually eye the real estate and machinery value of the assets. They became very rich after buying government companies.
Usually, there are some corrupt motives too.
Indian railways :
- The British started Indian railways in 1853. India was the most valuable and largest colony of the British. The rivals of England were France and Portugal always wanted to expand in India . Britain was very worried that at any time France might try to attack India. Moreover, Britan now controlled the entire Indian sub-continent and even Burma fully. The British realized that the railways were a great transport method to rush troops and British officers all over the country in a short time . Either you travel
There is a great need for improvement. We need change in the railways but not termination.
ed in trains or rode horses. Trains were fast and could move large numbers of people. Even before railways started taking root in Europe, India got railways.
Everyday, Indian railways move millions of passengers . Railways employ nearly 14 lakh people. It is the cheapest form of comfortable travel. But the Indian railways are now a tempting target of private business.
The recent actions and announcement of government and in particular the new Railway Minister on privatization of the railways has caused anxiety in the country. The great Brtiish poet Alexander Pope said in 1711 “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread “. Millions use the railways everyday. It is not a commercial enterprise and can never become one.
Many countries have tried to make railways a privatized operation. It has never worked. Rather than focus on privatization as a panacea for the failures or ills of the railways , deep pondering and the future of India must be considered.
- Britain has privatized railways during the regime of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher 30 years ago. The British railways were the best in the world. The trains were clean and punctual and railway stations were like hotels. The railway time tables were books of art. . Now we increasingly hear voices that the British railways will be fully or partly re- nationalized or parts of it brought under government control.
- Management of the railways at the ministerial level either requires a world-class executive or a Minister with great peoples skills and mass contact . Those railway Ministers who have been successful in India like late Madhu Dandavate and T.A. Pai had some such virtues. My contention is that irreversible decisions like privatization of railways should not be done in a hasty manner by any Minister.
The act of privatization usually is cloaked as great progressive activity. But it is not. It is the easiest of solutions with no gains. A scholar brought to my attention what the Bhagvad Gita said “ There is action in in-action and in-action in action “. Privatization is “ Inaction in action “.
- While railways can perform better, it is not the fault of the railways family that it is not running better. Government of the day has full control and it is their responsibility to run the railways. Not having the ability to run the railways should not make it become a victim of privatization.
- Whether railways are making a big profit or not, they are the foundation for a great sphere of economic activity. Every aspect of Indian life is touched by the railways. If the government wants to buttress our defense at the borders, do you think that a privatized railway would care about it ? How will government make strategic plans with a privatized railway? Government should carefully consider whether tinkering with a great on-going institution should be contemplated.
- Our neighbor China is investing great amounts in its railways. There is economic sense to it. China is tying up with Nepal and other countries to link railways. India is being left out. If government goes headlong on privatization ,then surely we will be cutting back on the entire development and safety of India .
- The government had merged the historic railway budget with the general budget . This was supposed to bring great changes . Thus far, no gains have been seen. The only consequence is that the prestige of the railway minister and the Railway Board has declined . The railway minister is less accountable. This decision as an example of “economic diktat” and made in haste and has had no desirable results. I think there is a good case for de-merging the railway budget and having the traditional Stand-Alone Railway budget .
Dr P. Pulla Rao is a Socio-political and Economic analyst