By Shri G Bhave, Joint Secretary, Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC)
The start of two private trains under the Bharat Gaurav scheme during the last ten days again shows that rail workers cannot afford to be fooled by the assurance of the Rail Minister that there is no plan for privatisation of the Indian Railways (IR). The launch of these private trains is a reminder to all the rail workers and passengers of the imminent threat of privatization of the core activity of running passenger trains.
The first private Bharat Gaurav train was started on 14th June from Coimbatore to Shirdi and the second private one from Madurai to Prayagraj (Allahabad) on 23rd June.
Under the Bharat Gaurav scheme, the private operator has the freedom to decide the route, the halts, the tariff and the services provided.
The Bharat Gaurav policy, launched by the Railway Ministry in November 2021, allows any operator or service provider, or virtually anyone, to lease trains from Indian Railways to run on a theme-based circuit as a special tourism package.
The tenure of this public-private partnership (PPP) is a minimum of two years and maximum of the service life of the coach.
In the Bharat Gaurav scheme, the revenue-sharing clause has been removed at the demand of private operators. This clause required a percentage of the total amount collected by the private operator to be handed to the IR. Now the private operator needs to pay only for the right to use and haulage charges. Private operators had showed their opposition to the revenue sharing clause in the tenders for 150 private passenger trains by not showing any interest in running them.
While both the IR and passengers are big losers under the new PPP model, the operator gain immensely without much capital investment, as can be seen from data for the private Coimbatore-Shirdi Bharat Gaurav train.
According to Com. R Elangovan, leader of Dakshin Railway Employees Union (DREU), as per the new conditions, “an operator can take one rake with the required number of air-conditioned, sleeper and SLR coaches at the cost of Rs. 1 crore as security deposit. In addition, the operator has to pay fixed haulage of Rs. 76 lakh for three months and variable haulage charges of Rs. 40 lakh. These amounts are only for using the facilities and do not amount to income to the Railways.”
The freedom to decide rail fare for these private trains has meant loot of passengers. The fare charged by a private train is nearly double that of the IR. While the IR fare for Coimbatore-Shirdi return journey for the sleeper class is Rs. 1280, the private train fare is Rs. 2500 and it is Rs. 5000 for 3rd AC as against Rs. 2360 charged by the IR.
Com. Elangovan pointed out that for the 1,100 berths in the train, the Railways would have collected Rs. 28 lakh while the operator has collected around Rs. 44 lakh only from fares. Through the package system, the operator earns around Rs. 25 lakh after spending on providing accommodation. In this way, the private operator gets a profit of Rs. 41 lakh per trip.
If this PPP model is adopted for further private trains, the IR will soon be a sick enterprise as it will have no income; fees paid by private trains will only cover the expenditure incurred by the IR in running them.
Make the enterprise a sick unit and then sell it at a throwaway price for the benefit of corporates, has been a frequent approach adopted by the government to justify privatisation.
Only united action by all rail workers, cutting across their affiliations and differences, will be able to stop further privatisation of the IR. Further, if they educate and mobilise the passengers, their strength will be multiplied!
While a few unions like Dakshin Railway Employees Union (DREU), Southern Railway Employees Sangh (SRES-NFIR) and rail workers of the Southern Railway have protested against the launch of the first private train from Coimbatore, there is need for protests across the country to convey a strong message to the government against the privatisation of the IR.