Railway unions mull ‘indefinite strike’ against privatisation

Mamuni Das / AM Jigeesh New Delhi | Updated on October 11, 2019

A view of the Lucknow-Delhi Tejas Express, India’s first ‘private’ train. Indian Railways has also formed a committee of Secretaries to fast-track the privatisation of 50 stations   -  PTI

‘Given the government’s attitude, we may be forced to take up path of confrontation’

All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF), the largest railway union which is also the largest employees union in the country, is considering an indefinite strike to protest against the “indiscriminate” privatisation of operating trains, stations, production units, among others.

The move comes against the backdrop of Railways forming a committee of Secretaries to fast-track the privatisation of 50 stations, following a letter from NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant. This, however, was just one step forward in the series of moves taken towards privatisation by Indian Railways, which the unions have opposed. The Sangh Parivar supported Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh is among the various unions that have opposed this move. Given the government’s attitude, “we may be forced to consider a path of confrontation,”AIRF General Secretary Shiv Gopal Mishra told BusinessLine. “The Railway Minister has already asked the Chairman Railway Board to loop in the Unions transparently about Railways’ plan to ‘improve services’ by involving private sector,” said Mishra.

Not new

AIRF pointed out that the Railways being pushed towards privatisation is not new. Even under UPA regime, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who was Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission (NITI Aayog’s previous avatar) had written a similar letter to the then CRB. But, the committee was not formed.

In a letter to the Railway Minister a day before the committee was formed, AIRF’s Mishra warned, “Any move to shift the existing time-tested system to an uncertain system, by involving private agencies in train operation, is bound to create uncalled for industrial unrest in the Indian Railways as the railwaymen are badly perturbed on this account.”

The committee was formed within a day of NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant writing to the Railway Board Chairman VK Yadav, in which Kant referred to running 150 trains through private mode and the slow-pace of railway stations modernisation.

Kant informed the Railway Board Chairman that he had already discussed the “issue” with Railway Minister Piyush Goyal.

Handing over certain profit earning trains to private agencies would....further deteriorate the financial health of Indian Railways, AIRF said. It further pointed out that railways is already operating semi-high speed trains made in railways’ production units at cheaper prices than those made globally.

Mishra said after the discussions with CRB, the AIRF will convene a meeting of its working committee to chart the future action. “More or less, workers have agreed for a strike. As per the process followed for strike, the Union will have to hold a secret ballot of employees, where at least half of the employees will have to vote in favour of a strike.

To cover all the employees of Railways, a strike that spans six shifts is required. Otherwise, certain segment of railway employees will be involved, who may be singled out and targeted by government,” explained Mishra. In the last few years, Railway employees have voted for indefinite strikes in 2016 and 2013. But, the last indefinite strike of railways was held almost 45 years ago in 1974. The BMS has also opposed the new move. “Our federation in the Railways, Bharatiya Railway Mazdoor Sangh, has written to the Railway Minister protesting the step taken by NITI Aayog. People in NITI Aayog have no understanding of the ground realities of the country. Railways is the backbone of our economy. Government going away from manufacturing and services sectors will do no good for the country,” said BMS national executive member Girish Arya.

AIRF objected to the formation of the committee, comprising CEO NITI Aayog Amitabh Kant, Chairman Railway Board, Secretary Department of Economic Affairs, Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs to fast-track station modernisation, approve bidding documents and ensure award of projects.

Published on October 11, 2019

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