Privatisation of Pakistan Railways

Pakistan Railways Employees (PREM) union recently staged a protest demonstration against the proposed privatisation of Pakistan Railways. For the past few years, Pakistani leadership has adopted a neo-con economic worldview. Privatisation is seen as the panacea of all problems. In their bid for ‘economic growth’, our leadership has put its faith in privatisation of state-owned assets and industry since not only does it generate instant money but also allows the government to shirk from its responsibilities. But if we look at the track record of privatisation in Pakistan, for instance PTCL and KESC, it has not succeeded. In Pakistan, the privatisation process of not transparent and leads to cronyism and underhand deals.

Privatising railways is in any case not the right thing to do. Railways system is not simply a commercial enterprise; it is also a social service. When railways were first introduced in the world, it was a virtual revolution in transport. The isolation of the rural areas was finally broken and people were able to travel great distances in a short time. It also helped in trading goods. If we look at our neighbour India, which is a very large country with huge railways network, the success of its railways model should be emulated. It is not as if India did not have its share of problems in the past but they have managed to make it a success and their service is excellent. Pakistan has managed to run the railways system to the ground because of corruption and mismanagement. Many routes have been shut down and despite having 500 locomotives, only 200 are operational. It has also increased the load on roads because of freight trucks. Travelling by train is not just economical but also the most convenient form of travel.

Pakistan Railways can still be revived. Instead of relying on bureaucratic sloth, professional management should be brought in. The private sector does not respect workers’ rights and only want to earn quick bucks. The government must not privatise the railways as there is a social aspect related to it. Improving the railways system is more important than making money.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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