With its 14 lakh-strong workforce up in arms against moves initiated by minister CP Joshi to privatise assets such as production units and workshops, the railways seems to be chugging towards a crisis.
Presiding over a railway board meeting on October 5, Joshi had given “in principle” approval for allowing public private partnership and joint venture participation in various projects, including the Kapurthala-based Rail Coach Factory (RCF) and Electric Locomotive Works (ELW) factory in Chittranjan.
Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia was reportedly present at the meeting.
Stating that structures and processes of the privatisation plan will be worked out over the next few months, officials said that the process would begin with hiving off 10% shares of IRCON and RITES.
In an October 12 letter to Joshi, the All India Railwaymen Federation (AIRF) said, “Workshops and factories will be shut down and – if the government does not relent still – we will go in for a “chakka jam” (stop the movement of trains).”
M Raghuviah of the National Federation of Indian Railway men also voiced his protest. “Production units and workshops are meeting targets. What is the need to corporatise them? If the Railway Board moves arbitrarily in the matter, we will take serious action,” he said.
Drawing from the recommendations of the Rakesh Mohan Committee’s 2001 report, the over-riding argument at the October 5 meeting was for the Railways focussing on core activities such as running trains and maintaining tracks – exiting from business and other peripheral activities.
Over the next five years, the Railways will need 34,000 passenger coaches, besides 3,450 diesel and 2,775 electric locomotives, as laid out in the “Vision 2020” document. However, no more than 2,500 coaches and 500 locomotives are indigenously manufactured.
Officials argue that PPP and JV models will help Railways scale up production volume to meet future needs.