Railway Unions suspicious of Debroy Panel’s proposals, say it is Roadmap to Privatization

New Delhi: The Debroy panel report on Friday faced flak from railway employees unions who termed it as a clear roadmap for privatization of railways that could endanger safety and increase transporter’s financial burden.

However, the high-powered committee, in its over 300 page report, has several times clarified that it does not recommend privatization of railways. “It does, however, endorse private entry, which is not ab initio but ab hinc — as this is already part of the Indian Railway policy — with the proviso of an independent regulator. This committee prefers use of the word liberalization and not privatization or deregulation, as both the latter are apt to misinterpretation,” it said in its report on Friday.

Noting that role of private sector was already part of government policy, Debroy said the panel has only endorsed it and it was not a new recommendation. But the railway unions seem unimpressed with assurances given by the panel and has given a call for observing a black day on June 30.

panel reportThe privatization issue was raked up railway unions even after Modi dispensation allowed FDI in railways sector, aiming to ensure both domestic and foreign investment in national transporter reeling under financial stress. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s persuasive pitch to the unions has cleared the decks for more FDI inflows and private capital in national transporter that may be reflected in the rail budget.

The unions softened their stand after Modi said that there would be no privatization of railways. The PM has said that he had a “deep connection” with the railways. “I love railways. My life is what it is because of railways,” Modi said. “The government will not go in the direction of railway privatization … People are spreading rumours about privatization of railways. It is not true,” Modi had said.

Railway minister Suresh Prabhu had also ruled out the possibility of privatization on several occasions. He had assured that FDI or public-private partnership (PPP) will not affect the ownership of railways. “We want to get private participation but that does not mean we want to privatize railways’ operations,” the minister had said.