Privatization of Railways-Opening the Pandora’s Box?

By Megha Gupta

Since the beginning of the railway’s introduction in India, it has served as the lifeline of millions of people across the country. Though public convenience was not a priority under the British regime, the railway did end up connecting people from different parts of the nation. Since then, the Indian railway has become an essential part of life for a lot of Indians.

However, the world, as we know it, is changing. The coronavirus has forced countries into lockdowns, brought world economies to a halt and is making everyone re-imagine life. To save the economies from crashing, countries are taking unprecedented steps and India is no exception.

Recently, the Modi government announced privatization of 151 trains run by the Indian railways. The privatization is to be done in 12 clusters and makes up for 5% of the total trains run by the railways.

This decision of the government has raised many questions. A huge part of India’s population depends on railways for their livlihoods. Keeping in mind the high air fares, the privatization of railways raises an eminent question-will the economically backward section of the society be able to keep up with the raised fares of private trains?

Though the government assures that privatization of trains will provide the public with better facilities and journey experience, the point will be rendered moot when the “new and improved” version of the trains will remain inaccessible to the people who need it the most.

The up-side to this, cannot be ignored. Privatization of railways will result in cleaner stations, better facilities, high standard of travel and a complete overhaul of the Indian trains. It may even achieve the impossible, make the trains run on time! To compare it to something current, the systematic functioning of the trains may be, and probably will be, inspired by  the airport system. Clean, punctual and hassle free. However, this has its own cons. Till now, railways served as a viable alternative to air travel. The standard to service might not be the same, but it is an option that people readily chose due to the difference in prices and as per their own comfort zones. Privatization of railways will strip them of this choice. The prices will be determined by competition and various other factors by private companies whose main aim will be to turn in profits.

Not to forget, if the private sector of the railway is inspired the airport system then it will also bring with it various add on costs on top of the prices( extra cost for preferred seats, extra luggage etc). This will act as a hinderance towards making railways a cheaper alternative to air travel. Keeping all these factors in mind, it can be said that the private run trains will be more beneficial to that strata of the society which already has the economic access to air travel.

When the Indian railway was introduced in the British regime, it created a divide. Browns could not sit with Whites simply because of their skin colour. Many Indians were infuriated because the racism had become extremely apparent.

If there is no price control by the government on the private trains, history might repeat itself. There will be a class divide among the “haves” and the “have nots”. While it may not be too on the face or not create a havoc in terms of law and order, it will economically and psychologically marginalize the economically backward.

The move of privatization of railways also raises another pertinent question- where and how will the line be drawn?

Railway has always been owned and operated by the state. While the current privatization proposal is scheduled to happen by 2023 and only accounts for 5% of the total trains operational, this move of the government sets a dangerous precedent. If this move is successful, where exactly will the line to not privatize any more trains be drawn? In the current times, the economically backward class has had to face a lot of difficulties owing to the pandemic, the lockdown, the loss of jobs and lack of any source of money. An environment of fear and panic led a lot of migrants to return their home states. This herculean task was taken up by the Indian railways, which is currently state owned. It was witnessed that even then the migrants were unable to pay for their tickets and the governments, state and central, had to step in to foot the bill. However, would this have been possible had the railway been a private entity?

It is also note worthy that a partnership between the public sector and the private sector was created so as to create a balance between the two and to stop the capitalist agenda from harassing the public for their own profits. Though the times have changed and certain changes must be made to revive the economy, privatization of railways is a dangerous precedent. It has to be done keeping in mind the various grievances and the possible unwanted results that may arise.

About the Author: Megha Gupta is a 4th year law student in Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow. She is a published author and has a keen interest in history, psychology and Indian politics. 

 

One Comment

  1. Ajay Prakash Gupta says:

    Very nice

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