(Eds: Updating with minister''s response)
New Delhi, Mar 17 (PTI) There is no plan to privatise Indian Railways as it belongs to the people of the country, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal asserted in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday after some members raised concerns over it.
Replying to a discussion on the working of the Ministry of Railways, Goyal announced an investment of Rs 50 lakh crore in the national transporter over the next 12 years. "I want to make it crystal clear that there is no plan or proposal to privatise Indian Railways, it will not happen. Indian Railways belongs to the people of this country, it will remain so," Goyal said. Keeping in mind development of the railways, the government may, however, bring in a few services under private sector in order to provide better services to the passengers, he added.
Participating in the discussion, several Rajya Sabha members raised concerns over the poor financial health of the railways, decline in job opportunities and delay in execution of major projects, besides privatisation of the national transporter.
Goyal said the government was committed to making Indian Railways world class in every aspect.
"In the next 12 years we are going to invest Rs 50 lakh crore in the Indian Railways. We will do it in public private partnership. We will also give the chance to the people of this country to be part of this process," he added.
Goyal, in reply to allegations by Trinamool Congress member Derek O''Brien, said that sharing of funds between the Centre and state governments for new railway projects was started during the UPA regime of which the Trinamool Congress was a part, and it was inherited by the BJP as a legacy.
The minister, however, added it was "not a bad practice".
Goyal cited various news reports on the performance of the railways under former Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Bannerjee. "I don''t want to politicise the issue of losses," he added.
O''Brien had alleged step-motherly treatment to states governed by parties other than the BJP, particularly West Bengal.
Responding to complaints of delay in work, Goyal said that over the last five years the government has taken steps to speed up various projects. "In 2014-15 the capex (capital expenditure) for the Indian Railways stood at Rs 58,000 crore. This year Rs 1.61 lakh crore capex is going to happen. This investment has led to unprecedented work," the minister noted.
Elaborating on the achievements of the government, he said that barring a few in Rajasthan, unmanned level crossings have ceased to exist on the board gauge network across the country. On electrification of tracks, he said that out of stated target to convert 6,000 kms last year, the government has been able to complete 5,276 kms. In 2013-14, the length of electrified tracks in the country stood at of just 610 kms, he noted. "Looking at the dedication of the railways employees, I have confidence that we will be able to achieve the target of full electrification by 2023-24," Goyal said. He said that the government has identified 58 projects as "super critical" and 68 projects as "critical" and the railways is working to complete them on priority. He said that if the government gets support from the state governments in terms of land acquisition, investment, the projects could be implemented with greater speed. Commenting specifically on West Bengal, he said there were issues of land encroachment in the state which have had impact on various projects. Earlier participating in the debate, Minister of State of Railways Suresh Angadi said there were encroachments on both sides of tracks in West Bengal. He said that during the protests against the amended citizenship law, maximum damage to railways property took place in the state. Citing the example of Kerala, Goyal sought help from the members to speed up projects across the country. "Help us get land, if we get land and the state government''s share of investment, we will be able to fast- track the projects," he said. He said the Katra-Banihal rail line in Jammu and Kashmir would be completed by August 2022. Citing other achievements, Goyal said the Rai Bareli rail coach factory would roll out a record 2,000 coaches this year. He added that the Indian Railways has traced problem of water-logging in 2,044 underpasses, out of the total 8,519 in the country. "We have solved the issue in 715 of the underpasses so far and the rest would be rectified in the next few months," Goyal said. He said that about 99.5 per cent work on bio-toilets was complete and the rest would be completed soon. Goyal said that in order to achieve zero carbon emissions, the Indian Railways plans to generate 20,000 mega watt of electricity through solar infrastructure, helping it meet its entire supply requirement. Earlier, leader of opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad sought queries regarding the work on various railways projects in Jammu and Kashmir.
Participating in a discussion on the working of the Ministry of Railways, several members referred to the large number of vacancies in the railways and said these should be filled up, thereby providing job opportunities to the young generation.
Binoy Viswam of the CPI said the railways has around three lakh vacancies and these should be filled up.
Opposing privatisation of trains and stations, he said the national transporter has "forgotten its social aspect and social commitment".
V Vijayasai Reddy of the YSRCP said the railways now has an operating ratio of 98.4 per cent, which is the worst in last 10 years.
Moreover, the railways'' revenue surplus is also falling and suggested that "priority should be given to augmentation of its internal resources."
He also said that fatality due to accidents has declined this year and hygiene at railway station has improved.
Sanjay Singh of the AAP said that employment opportunities are being ignored by the railways. The government is increasing outsourced works in the railways, where contractual labourers are being exploited.
Praful Patel of the NCP raised concerns over the delay in several railways projects and suggested that the government should think of cost benefit analysis of major works.
He, however, supported PPP model in the railways, saying "we should be open minded."
Jose K Mani of the KCM said that the railway is overloaded with work and several projects such as doubling of line in Kerala are long delayed.
Neeraj Shekhar of the BJP said the Opposition is misguiding the people about performance of the railways. Indian Railways has performed well in last five years, he said.
The railways has installed 2.38 lakh bio-toilets between 2014 and 2018. It has a capital expenditure of over Rs one lakh crore, has done doubling of 28,000 km tracks.
Highlighting the safety records, Shekhar said that it has not witnessed a single accident in last one year.
Over the operating ratio, he said that it was due to implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission by the government in the railways.
Husain Dalwai of the Congress said that the revenue of the Indian Railways should be increased.
Dalwai also raised the safety issue of the Mumbai suburban trains, saying that according to GRP data, 3,202 people died in 2016-17 and 3,014 in 2018-19. He asked the railways to enhance the security measures to reduce the high number of fatalities.
R S Bharathi of the DMK said that the government should complete the second unit of the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Perambur.
Manoj Kumar Jha of the RJD, Veer Singh of the BSP and V P Vaishya of the AGP and K K Ragesh of CPI(M) raised concerns over the privatisation of the railways.
Other members who participated in the discussion are G C Chandrasekhar (Congress), Kahkashan Perween (JDU), Jugalsinh Mathurji Lokhandwala (BJP), Anil Desai (Shiv Sena), Satish Chandra Dubey (BJP), Mir Mohammad Fayaz (Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party) and Ram Narain Dudi (BJP). KRH KKS MSS MBI NAM SMN SMN
Disclaimer :- This story has not been edited by Outlook staff and is auto-generated from news agency feeds. Source: PTI