Government Intent on Opening Up Railways to Foreign and Private Investors
Hike in passenger fare and freight rates : On Friday, 20th June 2014, railway passenger fare was increased by 14.2 per cent in all classes while freight charge was hiked by 6.5 per cent with effect from 21st June 2014. On the back of nationwide protests, the Railway Ministry on Tuesday, 24th June, partially rolled back rail fares by exempting second class suburban travel up to 80 km from the 14.2 per cent hike.
Monthly tickets doubled: The monthly season ticket rates having almost doubled. Though the minimum distance slab of 20 km has been reduced to 15 km with effect from June 25, the ticket rate has been increased from Rs. 85 to Rs. 150 for this distance. While a ticket, which allows any number of journeys, was worked out on the basis of cost of 15 single journeys earlier, it will now be calculated on the basis of cost of 30 single journeys, thereby almost doubling the ticket price.
Decision Undemocratic : The Government has taken this step behind the back of Parliament. The railway budget is to be presented in a few days. The BJP themselves have previously termed these pre-budget hikes undemocratic, and now their government is using the same methods to overrun the democratic process.
Decision Anti-people: The decision is an explicitly anti-people decision. The increase in monthly fares directly affects billions of daily commuters. To the student who avails the railways everyday to attend school or college, especially to the suburban girl student who is already beleaguered by her society to give up her education it is additional barrier to be faced. To the laborer or the small trader it is a direct attack on their livelihood. So directly or indirectly this decision goes against the interests of the largest cross-section of society.
Fuelling the Price Rise: The increase in freight rates will have a cascading impact on prices of essential commodities which are transported by rail across the country. The government has abdicated from the commitment to control the price rise that it made to the common people. It is directly fuelling the price rise by taking this decision and is pushing the people into greater distress and ignominy.
People's Rail being Sold Off: Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda said on the 19th of June, 2014 that a decision on allowing foreign direct investment in railways is likely to be taken before the Rail Budget and that a discussion on these matters is already ongoing. The policy of the government is clearly to follow a line of relentless privatization as is apparent from this decision of drastically increasing the passenger fare and freight rates and the different statements of Mr. Gowda regarding the “productivity”, “efficiency” and “world class service”. The vital role of the railways as a social institution is being undermined by the government and by the upper classes. The railways are being opened up as a profit making arena for the private sector at the cost of the basic services it provides to the population.
The Experience of Privatisation: This process of has started long ago by the outsourcing of catering, maintenance, booking, security and other component services of the railways to private contractors. It has been marked by irregularities and a deterioration of baseline qualities. Since last year the talk of opening up several routes to PPP investment as high performance routes marked a paradigm shift which this government intends to take to the next level. The railways itself is now being put on sale. This government has also made clear that it intends to allow both national and international players make use of this business opportunity and that it has no responsibilities to protect the right of the common people to this huge institution built and for so long maintained on public resources.
Students' concessions, for equitable access to education: We demand that the government withdraws the hike in rail fares and the freight rates and oppose the government’s anti-people policy regarding the railways. We demand regular concessions in rail travel for all students, and more particularly for girls. We see the students’ concessions as part of the governments’ essential duties towards ensuring equitable scope of education.