Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge on Wednesday said the Centre must give up the idea of privatisation of railways, and accused the dispensation of not giving due credit to the previous Congress-led governments for their contribution to the development of the national transporter. Speaking during a discussion on the working of the Ministry of Railways, the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha said the government should focus on the ground reality instead of publicity as it will not fill stomachs, and until people are gainfully employed, they will keep fighting. Accusing the Centre of not giving due credit to the previous Congress-led governments for the initiatives undertaken for the railways, he said, "If so much hatred exists in a democracy, it will become difficult to sustain."
Kharge said 2.65 lakh posts in the railways are lying vacant whereas 3.18 lakh people are employed on daily wages and 9.67 lakh posts are regularised. He claimed that a picture of railways running into losses was being projected with an objective to privatise the national transporter. He also asked the government to give up the idea of privatisation of Indian Railways, arguing that it will lead to a spike in inflation due to increased freight rates. Kharge said only two Vande Bharat trains have been introduced in the last three years. "You had announced plans to run 400 Vande Bharat trains. Can you do it in 1-2 years?" he asked the central government. Referring to the government's plans to introduce bullet trains in India through collaboration with Japan, he said the Centre had said these trains would start running in 2022, but the project is moving at a snail's pace.
Meanwhile, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had last week said the government had no plans to privatise the Indian Railways and the opposition parties' contention in this regard was hypothetical. Replying to a discussion on demands for grants for the railway ministry for 2022-23 in Lok Sabha, he also said the railways has resolved the recent "misunderstanding" with regard to recruitment in a sympathetic manner. "There is no ban on recruitment... recruitment is going on for 1.14 lakh vacancies," he said while responding to various issues raised by MPs during the discussion. Kharge referred to a recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General which noted that the railways' operating ratio of 98.36 per cent in 2019-2020 does not reflect its true financial performance and if the actual expenditure on pension payments is taken into account, the ratio will be 114.35 per cent. This comes at a time when the national transporter has targeted to reduce its operating ratio to 95 per cent. Till December 18 last year, the railways' revenue from goods traffic has been Rs 98,075.12 crore, while its target for the 2021-22 fiscal is Rs 1,37,810 crore. In the passenger segment, the railways has earned Rs 26,871.23 crore, while its projected target is Rs 61,000 crore for the FY.