Notwithstanding recommendation by government panels, railways minister Suresh Prabhu has outrightly ruled out privatisation of the public transporter, saying it was a “bogey” being raised by those who do not want any change.
He further said the concept of privatisation gives confusing signals and envisages the possibilities of ownership transfer of an enterprise to a different entity or management which was not possible in railways.
“The railways will continue to be owned by the government of India, managed by the government of India. We want change not for the change in ownership. We do not want change for somebody to run the precious assets of railways. We want to bring in private capital or technology to improve the functioning of the railways so that the railways become more valuable,” Prabhu said.
Prabhu’s remarks come in the backdrop of raging debate on the privatisation of the railways with the government-appointed committee headed by economist Bibek Debroy recommending computerisation of the loss-making public transporter and suggesting that the ministry of railways be only responsible for policymaking and private players should be allowed to run passengers and freight operations.
According to the latest CAG report on Railways, the Indian Railways was unable to meet its operational cost of passenger and other coach services and there was a loss of Rs 23,643 crore in the same during 2011-12.
Asked about the reasons for opposing privatisation, he said, “Unfortunately this type of nomenclature is an ideological debate. This is unnecessary and unintended confrontation. What is meant by us is that we want to improve quality of service of railways.”
“So whatever brings better quality of service, better technology, better profitability has to be done with whatever means possible. If we can do it ourselves in-house then we should do it. If we realise that we cannot do it in-house then we must get it outside capital, outside technology and outside agency” but not with the transfer of ownership. Privatisation, he said, “is a bogey being raised by those who do not want change” even if it is for improving performance and facilities.