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Opposition warns Govt against privatisation of railways

New Delhi, Mar 12: Several opposition parties on Thursday spoke against any move to privatise railways and asked the government to revert to the presentation of a separate rail budget in Parliament so that it could get adequate attention.

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Some opposition members, including Supriya Sule of the NCP and Arvind Sawant of the Shiv Sena, acknowledged that railway stations have become cleaner.

Participating in a discussion on demands for grants of the Ministry of Railways in Lok Sabha, M K Raghavan (Congress) said the BJP government has shown consistent apathy towards railways in the last five years and the dismal performance is visible in the high operating ratio, which is the worst in last 10 years.

“Railways is a services sector. BJP is unaware of reasons for establishment of railways. Railway is not an engine to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, it is for poor man’s service,” he said.

Raghavan said the focus of the Union Budget on railways is cursory and reveals neglect. There is a drive to sell off public assets and a colossal failure in its management, he said.

“This Budget is a call for privatisation and eventual selling off of railways which is the lifeline of Indian people,” he said.

S S Palanimanickam (DMK) said the BJP government is moving towards privatisation of railways.

“Air India is on verge of privatisation, land and sea transports have already been privatised. I suggest just give up the idea of privatisation of railways,” he said.

Palanimanickam said there should be separate Budget which will encourage the Rail Ministry to discuss demands of various railway zones.

“Earlier there was separate budget for all zones. The rail minister used to hold meeting with MPs to know demands of zones, but now no such meetings take place,” he said.

The government had merged Railway Budget with General Budget from 2017-18 onwards, ending a 92-year-old practice of a separate budget for the country’s largest transporter.

The presentation of separate railway budget started in 1924, and had continued even after Independence as a convention rather than under constitutional provisions.

Noting that railways is now appointing only contractual labourers, Palanimanickam said, “If you have the mindset to privatise, how can you save railways?”

Tapir Gao (BJP) said the Indian Railways has developed so many facilities that its services are now comparable to those offered by airlines.

“Even 60 years after Independence, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram did not have rail connectivity. It is only under Modi government that railway extended connectivity to every corner of the country,” he said.

Before the House took up discussion of the demand for grants of Railways, Speaker Om Birla said the House has to discuss demands for grants of six ministries and sought to know from members if they are okay if Lok Sabha proceedings are held on Saturday and Sunday.

As opposition members and some members from treasury benches were seen not supporting the idea, the speaker suggested that the House will sit late on Thursday and Friday to discuss them.

In her speech, Sule sought to know what is the status of model stations, a proposal that former railway minister Suresh Prabhu had floated, and demanded clarification from the government about details of privatisation.

Though the government has denied any move to privatise railways, it has given some services, including running of a few trains, to private operators.

Sule also wondered how the government plans to fund infrastructure development in the sector when the economy is in “shambles”.

Saugata Roy of the TMC hit out at any move to privatise railways and also attacked Railway Minister Piyush Goyal for the move to merge all railway services.

He also said that the Union government is “fooling” people in the name of bullet trains, saying they are unlikely to actualise in India and adding that even if they do run then it will travel at half the speed of a similar train in Japan.

Roy also called for modernisation of the Kolkata metro and lamented that people are packed like cattle in suburban train services.

Krishna Lavu of the YSRCP demanded more Tejas trains in Andhra Pradesh.

Arvind Sawant of the Shiv Sena said platforms are cleaner now. He also spoke about his experience of receiving poor quality food in a Rajdhani train.

Santosh Kumar of the JD (U) also took part in the discussion.

PTI

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