As a newspaper and organisation that is partisan to the workers and toilers, we have been asking the leaders of the working people as to how the toilers of India view the reforms that were started 20 years ago. Whether the working class and people have benefitted from these reforms or have suffered? In the 16-31 October issue, we had begun this series with an interview of the General Secretary of the Communist Ghadar Party of India, Comrade Lal Singh. In the November 1-15 issue, we had published the interviews with the leaders of the unions of the banking and port sectors and of the loco pilots. In the November 16-30 issue, we published interviews with Insurance, Central and Western Railway Motormen’s Association, Postal Employees and a Trade Union leader of Thane District. In the December 1-15 issue, we published the interviews of leaders of the workers in some other sectors of the economy. In this issue, we bring you an interview with a leader of the rail transport sector.
Interview with Comrade D. S. Koparkar, Zonal Secretary, Central Zone, All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA)
MEL: What has been the impact of the policies of privatization, liberalization and globalization – “LPG”, launched by the then Finance Minster Mr. Manmohan Singh in 1991 on the Indian economy over the last twenty years?
Com Koparkar: When the policy of globalisation through liberalisation and privatisation was implemented 20 years ago, many people were confused. Today the matter is very clear. The long term effect of this policy is horrendous for the working people. The experience of other countries also confirms this. Undoubtedly one small class of the population has benefitted tremendously, but the condition of the others has deteriorated, with the lowest cadre unable to make ends meet. The prices never decreased. On the other hand, they were given a free hand to raise prices. Aristotle had said that “That government is best that governs the least.” But this government is not doing that. It is appointing commission agents everywhere. Wherever work is given out on contracts, it suffers.
Every day scams of thousands of crores of rupees are getting exposed. I don’t think it will stop at any level. Even essentials like medicine, food and milk are totally adulterated, but the government does nothing. The laws that are there are not implemented. The main thing is that there is no accountability of anything at any level or of any policy.
In the budget presented 4 years ago, the Railways had shown a profit of Rs. 84 000 crore. Now they say they have no money. Where did it all disappear? It is nothing but manipulation. They give the excuse that the 6th Pay Commission has given out hefty pay increases. But that was for all Central Government employees. How come only the railways are running at a loss?
MEL: What has been the impact of LPG on the Indian Railways?
Com Koparkar: In every session of parliament they announce that the railways will not be privatised. But they are doing it all the same. For example, more than 50% of commercial and maintenance operations are privatised. Engine washing is 100% privatised. As far as reservations are concerned, 50% is done through agents. Even in the case of coal mines belonging to the Railways, in many places the operations have been privatised.
Even the overhead (OH) structure maintenance and new erections are on contract! They do not know about the proper safety procedures. For example, if work is going on on a live track, the oncoming train needs to be stopped. Now to stop a train, it needs to be controlled 1 km before it actually can come to a stop. So the proper procedure is that there should be 3 flag bearers, 45 m before the desired halt, 600m before that and another 600 m before that. This precaution is now given the go-by. They have only one flag bearer, and he stands at risk of being overrun. We wrote innumerable letters, including those to the Railway Safety Board as well as to the General Manager of the Railways and to the High Powered Safety Commissioner. I have a 300 page memo prepared on the issue of safety. The Commissioner told us that their institute is only meant to investigate after accidents occur! That means that they are waiting for accidents before they will act. When accidents happen, their work begins. But not to remedy the situation – they just fix the responsibility.
The Railway Quarters are in an awful state. Their maintenance has been privatised. There is an officer who is supposed to oversee this, but he is there only to make money. The Quarters have broken windows. There is no drinking water supply; they supply water from bore wells. The medicines available in Railway Hospitals are substandard. In my over 30 years of service, I have not gone to the Railway Hospital even once!
MEL: What should the working class do to oppose the policies of LPG?
Com Koparkar: We in the railways should bring the trains to a halt. That is when they will listen. It is difficult, because there are so many unions pulling in different directions, but it can be done!
MEL: Com Koparkar, it was a pleasure talking to you. We have always supported the struggles of the loco drivers and motormen. We have consistently carried articles highlighting their working conditions and will continue doing the same. We also intend to write about the working condition of other departments and will appreciate your help in this matter. Thank you.