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UK scraps 'raj' era Indian railway laws

world Updated: Nov 07, 2013 19:47 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times
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Over 65 years after India's independence, parliament in Britain has scrapped 38 acts related to the Indian Railways that remained on its statute books until now - the first of them dated 1849 and the latest of 1942.

The railway laws of British India were part of the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill, which was introduced in the House of Lords in October 2012. It passed through various stages in parliament and has now received the Royal Assent, which means it is now an Act of parliament.

The Indian Railways acts were among several old pieces of legislation that were considered by the Law Commission "as being spent, obsolete, unnecessary or otherwise not now of practical utility".

The 38 acts relate to the construction and maintenance of the railways network in India during British rule and reflect the challenge of constructing and maintaining one of the largest railway networks in the world across vast distances in British India.

The Indian Railway acts include those enacted during the rule of the East India Company and later when the governance of India was taken over by the British Crown after India's first war of independence in 1857, and the railway network came under state control.

Some of the 38 acts now scrapped are: the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company Act, 1849; Assam Railways and Trading Company's Act, 1897; Oude Railway Act, 1858; Scinde Railway Act, 1857; Great Southern of India Railway Act, 1858; Calcutta and South-eastern Railway Act, 1857, and the Bombay Baroda and Central India Railway Act 1942.

Setting out the historical context of the 38 acts, the draft bill introduced in October 2012 noted that the benefits of harnessing travel by rail as a means of connecting British India were recognised by the East India Company in 1843, but it was unable (and unwilling) to finance the construction and running costs on its own.

"The East India Company's solution was a quasi-public/private partnership arrangement whereby ownership, control and risk would be shared, underpinned and secured by a system of public guarantees", the bill noted.

It added: "English companies were invited to bear the construction costs of the new rail network in India, and to own the relevant operational undertakings. In return, the East India Company (the quasi-public partner in the enterprise) would guarantee the railway shareholders a 5% return on their capital investment, make available land without cost and offer 99 year operating contracts".

The first passenger train ran (under the auspices of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company) from Mumbai (Bombay) to Thane in April 1853, followed in August 1854 by the inaugural run of the East Indian Railway Company between Howrah and Hooghly.

In 1858 the British Crown assumed direct governance of British India, and from 1868 onwards, the bill noted that "either by the surrender of railway undertakings under the terms of the previous guarantees, or by direct investment and construction, the government of India embarked upon development of the railway network as a form of state enterprise".

A new Railway Board was formed in 1905 under Sir Thomas Robertson, By then, the railway companies were simply operating companies, running the network on behalf of the government of British India.

The bill added: "By 1920 the government owned almost three-quarters of the total railway mileage in India. This was nationalisation effected piecemeal. Nationalisation proper started in 1925 (following publication of the Acworth Report in 1921) when the state took over management of the East Indian and Great Indian Peninsula Railways. From 1929 to 1944 the bulk of the Indian railway network had been nationalized".

When Pakistan and India became independent in 1947, the railway system was divided.

The Indian High Commission and the Railway Board were consulted as part of the repeal process, Law Commission sources said.