MEL: Please give your views on the Rail Budget, presented by Suresh Prabhu, Railway Minister, on February 26th 2015
Com M.N.Prasad (MNP): The overall direction of the Budget is negative. There is nothing in it for the passengers. For example of the Rs 8.56 lakh crores planned to be invested over the next 5 years only Rs 12,500 crores or 1.4% of the total is to be spent for passenger amenities. The bulk of the Railway passengers are poor working people of India. Improving the services of Rajdhani or Shatabdi trains by providing Pizzas and Fried Chicken from expensive food chains is not addressing this problem.
The Budget is full of lofty goals but without any direction as to how the same is to be achieved. There is no time frame in which the stated goals are to be achieved. Neither is it indicated from where the Rs. 8.56 Lakh crores to be spent by the Railways over the next 5 years is going to come from.
The Railway Minister is misleading the public that fares are not increased. On the contrary the fares were increased 14% in November 2014.
MEL: What is there for the workers in the budget?
MNP: There is nothing in this budget for the workers. For example there is no mention of improving the living conditions of the railway employees in the housing colonies, many of which are dilapidated, and in very poor condition. He talks of increased delivery of health services to employees by upgradation of four holiday homes! There are 13 lakh railway employees and the contrast cannot be starker!
AILRSA has been waging a struggle to improve the working conditions of the Loco Running staff. We have to work for 10- 12 hours at a stretch. A huge number of posts are unfilled leading to overstrain on the running staff. He has not addressed any of these. On the contrary he wants to increase the productivity of railway workers to world class. How can you do this without improving the working and living conditions of the employees?
MEL: Railway Minister has said that he will have to borrow to raise the capital for reforms. Who will be bearing the burden of the loan?
MNP: The Railway budget does not clarify where exactly the Rupees 8.56 lakh will come from in the next five years. Wherever this money comes from, finally the burden will have to be borne by workers and railway passengers. Ultimately the burden will fall on the people of India. I have already mentioned that there was a hefty increase in railway fares so that the budget does not look anti-people.
MEL: Which departments or sections of the Railways are being privatized?
MNP: The Railway Ministry is keen on private capital investments; apart from one or two departments like Operations, the process is on. It wants to increase FDI in railways. It wants to increase private participation in Railways. But to attract private investment in Railways, the labour laws have to be liberalised. So more and more employment will be on contract. That is what this Government is doing. It wants to build an electric locomotive plant at Madhepura and a Diesel Locomotive plant at Marhora , both in Bihar, based on FDI among other proposals. However, how far it will be able to encourage foreign investment will depend on how far it can make changes in labour laws to suit the capitalists.
MEL: What is the status of recruitment in the Railways?
MNP: There is a ban on recruitment in all departments except for Assistant Loco pilots. Sanctioned strength of Railway employees is 13 lakh, but presently there are only 11 lakh employees, leaving a shortfall of 2 lakh employees.
MEL: What are the problems faced by Railway workers?
MNP: Problems are of many indifferent types in different departments. Amongst the common problems faced by all the workers are inadequate Pay Band or Grade Pay, long duty hours, insufficient rest and bureaucratic attitude of some officials, inadequate and poor housing, shortage of hospital and doctors in the existing hospitals, and shortage of schools.
MEL: What kind of infrastructural improvements are necessary taking into consideration the safety and convenience of passengers? What are your suggestions?
MNP: AILRSA has long been demanding the implementation of the Kakodkar Committee report. A high level committee headed by Dr.Anil Kakodkar, ex Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, and appointed by the Railways itself, had gone into the safety aspects of the running of the Indian Railways. It had submitted its report in 2012. For the last three years various Governments and Railway Ministers have sat over this report. Now Suresh Prabhu has said he will look into this report! We want that all the recommendations be fully implemented.
Similarly, the recommendations on Signal Passing at Danger should be implemented – they have not been addressed since the last three years. Further, unfulfilled demands are: reduction of duty hours to 8hrs, full days rest after two night duties for Loco Pilots, ACs in rest room and Crew lobbies, all locomotive engines to be provided with toilets, out station stay of not more than 36 hrs for the loco pilots. All fatigued, old and expired materials and equipment need to be replaced in all Route Relay Interlocking Cabins (RRIs), attention should be paid to signalling system.
MEL: Thank you Comrade Prasad, for your views.