Brushing aside criticism from the Opposition, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal on Friday said there was no question of privatising the public and goods carrier. Replying in the Lok Sabha to a debate on Demands for Grants for Railways, Goyal however said that private investment was necessary for the modernisation of Railways.
“There is no question of privatisation of Railways. Railways cannot be privatised. However, if we have to increase the facilities in Railways, then obviously we need investments for it… We should invite investment in national interest if there are new projects and lines…We have taken a decision to encourage public private partnerships and we will also corporatise some units,” Goyal said.
The minister also attacked Congress for its alleged lethargy in the development of the Railways and said that the track kilometre in the country grew from 77,609 km to 89,919 km between 1950 and 2014, but rose to 1,23,236 km over the past five years.
Goyal also defended the government move to do away with the Railway Budget. He said all such Budgets used to be political in nature ad were aimed at winning elections. “Railway Budget was actually rajnaitik (political) Budget… It was strictly made for political reasons and was only aimed at misleading the entire country and MPs,” he said.
The minister also chose to directly address criticism from Congress Legislative Party chief Sonia Gandhi of the government’s plan to corporatise the Rae Bareilley coach factory — a few days ago, Sonia had said during Zero Hour, “…Corporatisation is actually beginning of privatization. This is the first step in selling priceless assets of the country on very cheap price to private hands…”
In response, Goyal said that during the Congress rule, not even one coach was manufactured in the Rae Bareli Modern Coach Factory. He said it began production only in August 2014 — after the Modi government came to power. He said government aimed to increase its capacity to 50,000 coaches and planned to sell them overseas.
He claimed that the corporatisation of Railways was first started by the Congress, accusing the party of “shedding crocodile tears”. He said the government was in favour of corporatisation and that it would bring investments from abroad as well. “There is only one difference between winners and losers, losers see difficulties while winners look at goals,” Goyal said.
The minister also attacked the Congress over the Dedicated Freight Corridor project, accusing it of implementing the project at snail’s pace. “The work for Dedicated Freight Corridor started in 2007. From 2007 to 2014, they had not even managed one kilometre of track linking. We took on this work, fast paced it and in just five years, we have completed 1900 km of track linking,” Goyal said.
He accused the West Bengal government of failing to acquire land for railway projects. “The oldest project in West Bengal is running from 1974-75. The projects don’t get completed because the government doesn’t give us land. If they give us land, work will immediately start,” he said, adding that similar problems were also faced in Kerala.
Goyal also said that the Modi government has made security a priority. Reeling out accident figures, he said the government had reduced railway accidents from 206 per year between 2004 and 2009 to around 100 in its tenure.
Goyal also made a reference to 2006 Mumbai train blasts where he accused the UPA government of inaction and asserted that the Modi government would have taken much tougher action. His remarks elicited loud protests from the Congress which accused Goyal of misleading the House.
Earlier, the Congress had accused the government of making tall claims in Budgets but not fulfilling them. “What happened to the modernisation of 500 stations? What happened to tickets-on-demands by 2019, as promised by (former Railway Minister Suresh) Prabhu in his Budget speech? Now, you’re promising an investment of Rs 50 lakh crore in Railways in the next 10 years. Where will the money come from?” Congress Leader of the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said.
Meanwhile, DMK member Kanimozhi criticised the government for employing manual scavengers. She said while the Railways maintained it had done away with the practice, contractors were still employing manual scavengers. “It’s a national shame amid claims of modernisation,” she said.