Interim Report refrains from recommending full Privatisation; suggests Board overhaul, entry of Private Stakeholders

New Delhi: Discard the British-era practice of a separate railway budget and allow entry of private train operators, recommended a committee set up to restructure the nation’s creaky public transporter in a voluminous 323-page interim report on Tuesday.

The Bibek Debroy-headed committee outlined a seven-year plan for transforming the transport monolith into a “government-owned Special Purpose Vehicle”.

It said the Railway Board should be overhauled to permit the entry of private stakeholders, but refrained from recommending full privatisation of the railways.

The committee called for bifurcation of the railways to separate the functions of track and infrastructure development from the business of operating trains and suggested setting up of an infrastructure corporation to undertake track and signalling work.

Citing examples of railways around the world, the panel recommended creation of an independent Railway Regulator of India to oversee the function of the commissioner of railway safety.

The report made a strong case for transparency and efficiency to attract public-private and foreign investment as the world’s fifth largest rail network suffers from chronic under-investment.

It said the current accounting system should be changed to bring in a commercial, accrual-based double-entry mechanism and rail PSUs could be divested in a gradual manner to cut flab and soar up revenues.

“There is a willingness to pay among passengers, provided the hikes are accompanied by improved traveling comforts,” it said.

Likewise, the report also stated that unnecessary expenditure and wastage of funds for unwarranted works is rampant in Railways in the name of Passenger amenities, Welfare and other extravaganza which Railways should now bring down drastically.  There are various instances of initiatives which were irrelevant to the functioning and operations of a Railway business and outgo of revenue due to such activities is also very high in Railways, outlined the report.

The report strongly argued for the need to free the overloaded and overworked railways from non-core operations such as building hospitals or running a police force. The interim report will be available on for feedback until April 30. The final report is expected to be out by the end of August.