Successive governments in India have slyly and stealthily been doing step by step privatisation of the Indian Railways. Privatisation of British Rail has often been cited to justify privatisation moves in our country. The Bibek Debroy Committee recommended that Indian Railways should follow the privatisation model of Britain. It said, "The key lesson from the UK is to retain the rail-track and infrastructure as a publicly-owned monopoly, while opening up rolling stock operations for passengers and freight to the private sector." This Committee conveniently did not state that privatisation of British Rail has not delivered the promised results to its users and that now due to their pressure and that of the workers, has been forced to partially renationalise certain routes.
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On 16 May 2018, the Transportation Minister of Britain announced that the East Coast rail line would be taken back under state control on 24 June 2018. This is a major rail route, nearly 600 km long, connecting London to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. This will be the third time this rail route will come back under state control since it was first privatised 12 years back.
The privatisation of the British Rail in the 1990s has been strongly opposed by the people of Britain right from the beginning. The opposition has grown even further over the years as people found fares rising, and safety standards as well as service quality falling after privatisation. The opposition has grown to the level that a recent opinion poll revealed that 75% of people wanted renationalisation of the British Rail. In support of their argument people cite the case of the East Coast rail line itself. This was the best performing network when it was under public ownership between 2009 and 2015. British people have paid heavily for privatisation carried out for the benefit of big capitalist monopolies of Britain and Europe. Privatisation was justified by claiming that it would eliminate the subsidy given to British Rail in the public sector. In reality, the subsidy being given to the private monopolies and state owned Rail Network, owning the track infrastructure together, is the highest ever at 4 billion pounds annually.
The experience of privatised British Rail once again shows that none of the claims made in favour of privatisation of railways are valid. Privatisation only helps to enrich a few private monopolies at the cost of people.
In our country the opposition of rail workers and users has forced the governments, both NDA and UPA, to keep denying that the privatisation of the Indian Railways is being carried out. But in reality they are carrying it out in the name of ‘rationalisation’, ‘restructuring’ and ‘reform’. Only the even stronger united opposition of rail workers and users will ensure that the Indian Railways, built with public money, will be used for public benefit and not for private profit.