Railway Minister Piyush Goyal on Friday rejected opposition’s allegation that the government is working to privatise the national transporter, but said the ministry will invite investments for new technology, lines and projects in the national interest.
Replying to a discussion on Demands for Grants of the railways in the Lok Sabha, Goyal reeled out figures to claim that the Modi government has performed better than the UPA dispensation as far as boosting infrastructure and safety parameters of the national transporter are concerned.
During his hour-long speech, there were frequent protests by Congress members, with their leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury accusing Goyal of misleading the House. The minister was backed by his party colleagues.
Goyal also defended the decision to discontinue the practice a presenting a separate railway budget in Parliament, calling them “political budgets” which were used to sell dreams of new trains and railway lines to people for winning elections.
With several opposition leaders accusing the government of heading towards privatisation of the railways, Goyal asserted he had time and again rejected the claim and would reiterate that there was no question of privatisation.
“There is no question of privatisation of the railways. The railways cannot be privatised. However, if we have to increase the facilities in railways, we obviously need investments for it. We have taken a decision to encourage public-private partnerships and we will also corporatise some units.
“We should invite investment in the national interest if someone is ready to get new technology, new stations, projects and lines,” the minister told the House.
He said track kilometre grew by 39,000 km in 64 years, while in the past five years it grew by 7,000 km. Similarly, he said the railways increased its running kilometre by 12,000 km between 1950-2014, while from 2014-2019, it grew by 5,000 running kilometre.
“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 and in just five years, we have completed 1900 km of track linking,” said Goyal.
He further claimed that during the Congress rule, not one coach was manufactured in Rae Bareli’s Modern Coach Factory from 2007-2008 till 2014. The first coach was made in August 2014 shortly after the BJP came to power, he said.
“We want the MCF to increase its manufacturing capacity to 5000 and the trains coming out of there to go the entire world. We want it to be the largest factory in the world,” he said.
Goyal said that between 2004 and 2009, around 206 accidents took place every year, while the number was 153 between 2009 and 2011. He said that during the BJP’s tenure, it reduced to around 100 every year.
The minister also highlighted how the government had installed around 2,10,000 bio-toilet units in trains so far.
Hitting out at successive state governments in West Bengal, Goyal said that several railway projects had been held up because the state was unable to provide land to railways.
“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’s reference to the alleged inaction of the UPA government in the 2006 Mumbai train blasts, which had taken place on July 11, drew loud protests from the Congress, with its members shouting “shame on you”.
He asserted that the terrorists would have been given a befitting reply had PM Modi been in power. Goyal also credited the prime minister for his focus on the railways and said the growth the sector had seen was largely because of his vision.
“A tea vendor selling tea in front of trains during his childhood saw this country and understood the significance of the railways,” said Goyal, referring to Modi’s early days when he used to sell tea at a train station in Gujarat.
Responding to a question on the problem in acquiring land in Maharashtra for the bullet train project, Goyal said there could be “little delay” in completion of bullet train project due to delay in land acquisition in Palghar.
“This government is a sensitive government and is in discussion with tribals for the acquisition of land. The government wants to acquire land without offending those who own it. And is trying its best to complete it in time,” he said.
Talking about the safety of rail bridges in the country, Goyal said before going to sleeping, every railway minister used to pray about the safety of bridges as some of them are very old. The government on regular intervals audit the safety of rail bridges across the country and do the needful, he said.
Speaking about the budget announcement that Rs 50 lakh crore will be needed as an investment in the railways till 2030, Goyal said that from 2009-2010 Rs 2,107 crore were allocated for the protection and safety of purposes that has been increased to Rs 5,690 crore this year.
He said that investments will be needed in high-density networks, dedicated freight corridors, modern signalling, 100 per cent electrification and that funds will be brought in through the PPP mode.
The minister also said that 99 members had taken part in the discussion and he has tried to answer their questions and demands in around 140 pages.
“I will reply to all the members through personal letters and address their queries,” he said.