Union Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu said the Centre was seeking private capital investment in cash-strapped Railways to meet the resource crunch and it does not amount to privatisation as the Railways unions claim.
“We want to get private participation but that does not mean we want to privatise railway’s operations,” he said, addressing an Asia Society event through video conferencing.
Prabhu, who took over as the Rail Minister recently, said that some people, especially the unions, “do not understand” the difference between merely getting private capital and privatisation.
“There are unions who feel that Railways is going to be privatised, government will not own Railways anymore. Railways will continue to be an important, dominant part of India’s social-economic culture and Government of India will make sure that we’ve proper trade-offs between private participation which can come through proper regulatory framework,” he said, seeking to assuage the concerns.
Ever since the Narendra Modi-led government came to power, there has been a lot of talk on foreign and private investments in the Railways. The unions, who represent close to 20 lakh employees of the state-run transporter, have opposed such measures.
Recently, two of the unions also offered employees’ provident fund deposits to be utilised for upgrading the rail network.
“If Railways do not have the resources, then we must allow private capital into Railways for betterment of country, railways, people who use railway services, those who run the services like the employees,” Prabhu said.
He added that this will be a “win-win” situation which will benefit all the stakeholders, including the investors, passengers and most importantly the employees.
Prabhu said he wants to make Railways “vibrant, sustainable and an efficient effective business organisation” and promised that it will never let go of its agenda of doing social good.
He cited the expansion of rail network in hostile areas like the hilly north east, Jammu and Kashmir and in the insurgency-affected states as testimony to the Railways’ commitments.
Such investments, which cost up to ten times the average, are being done keeping in mind the wishes of the people, for national integration and helping the country’s strategic interests, Prabhu said, adding that these are not pure financial investments.
Prabhu said it is time we see the Railways as a service body and his top priority will be to enhance the passenger experience in various aspects, including amenities at the railway stations, ticketing, catering and the cabin quality.
The second most important aspect for the ministry is safety, Prabhu said.
The ministry is working on a policy statement, in conjunction with the Ministries of External Affairs and Finance, which shall be out in the next few weeks, Prabhu said.