Notwithstanding recommendation by government panels, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu has outrightly ruled out privatisation of the public transporter, saying it was a “bogey” being raised by those who do not want any change.
“We want change not for the change in ownership. We do not want change for somebody to run the precious assets of railways. We want to bring in private capital or technology to improve the functioning of railways so that railways become more valuable,” Prabhu told in an interview.
He further said the concept of privatisation gives confusing signals and envisages the possibilities of ownership transfer of an enterprise to a different entity or management which was not possible in railways.
“Railways will continue to be owned by government of India, managed by government of India.”
Prabhu’s remarks come in the backdrop of raging debate on the privatisation of railways with the government-appointed committee headed by economist Bibek Debroy recommending corporatization of the loss-making public transporter and suggesting that the ministry of railways be only responsible for policymaking and private players should be allowed to run passengers and freight operations.
According to the latest CAG report on Railways, the Indian Railways was unable to meet its operational cost of passenger and other coach services and there was a loss of Rs 23,643 crore in the same during 2011-12.
Asked about the reasons for opposing privatisation, he said, “Unfortunately this type of nomenclature is an ideological debate. This is unnecessary and unintended confrontation. What is meant by us is that we want to improve quality of service of railways.”
“So whatever brings better quality of service, better technology, and better profitability has to be done with whatever means possible. If we can do it ourselves in-house then we should do it. If we realise that we cannot do it in-house then we must get it outside capital, outside technology and outside agency” but not with the transfer of ownership.
On Privatisation, he said, “Is a bogey being raised by those who do not want change” even if it is for improving performance and facilities.
Citing the example of Japan launching a 650 km per hour speed train, Prabhu said, “Where are we? If we do not have the technology should we remain behind? We should not look outside like ostrich. This is not possible. Therefore, we must look as to who can provide technology will be a partner.
“We do not have money so the one who can provide money, can be our partner. Therefore, getting private sector participation in railways for better technology or for money does not amount to privatisation.”
Asserting that a railway was a joint responsibility, he said it has to be managed both by government and public.
“If you keep thinking I will keep spitting, I will keep spoiling, it is my right since I have bought ticket then it cannot happen. Mindset of people must change. It is a joint endeavour. You cannot be in a demanding position that I must get better service all the time without doing nothing.”
“So the mindset must change. So we want to bring ownership issue that everybody owns railways. There are lot of mid-level management people,” the minister said.
He said first challenge was to change the mindset and the other was to convince people that we can achieve something.