New Delhi, Apr 2: A high-level railway restructuring committee, chaired by noted economist Bibek Debroy, has recommended drastic reforms in the cash-strapped Indian Railways by suggesting to allow privatisation of railways to run passenger as well as freight trains, producing coaches, wagons and locomotives and switching over to commercial accounting of railway functions.
The Bibek Debroy Committee in its interim report submitted on March 31, has also asked the national transporter to withdraw from welfare services such as running schools and hospitals and managing Railway Protection Force (RPF). Bibek Debroy is a member of Niti Aayog.
The committee has suggested setting up of a government SPV (with a possibility of dis-investing in the future) to own railway infrastructure, and delink it from the Railways.
It suggested an Indian railway manufacturing company to replace all existing production units and another holding company for railway stations.
The panel urged delinking of RPF from the Railways, and handing over railway schools to Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan and pruning of railway medical services.
It also suggested setting up a regulator - with statutory backing and independent of the railway ministry as well as the Railway Board - for fixing tariff, determining cost of service, managing track access, setting technical standards among other things, after private players were allowed to run freight and passenger trains.
The panel said it could be called the Railway Regulator Authority of India (RRAI). However, All-India Railwaymen's Federation (AIRF) today strongly opposed the report saying "it is an attempt to privatise Railways."
Rejecting the report, AIRF General Secretary Shiva Gopal Mishra said it is a replica of Rakesh Mohan and Prakash Tandon Committee reports.
"The report of the Rakesh Mohan Committee was rejected by the then NDA Government in a seminar presided over by Nitish Kumar, the then Minister for Railways, wherein full board, all the federations of the railwaymen, were present in Vadodara Railway Staff College," he said.
Mishra said this report has given a roadmap for privatisation of Railways as a whole, which will not help the users in particular and the country. He appreciated few points given in the report regarding dividend, reimbursement of subsidy, setting up of training, R&D, IT centres and universities.
He, however, criticised the report for privatisation of medical services, education system and suggestion of outsourcing of almost all the activities presently done by the Railwaymen.
It must be remembered that earlier last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ruled out privatisation of Railways while asking trade unions to stop worrying about foreign investments coming in the sector, saying these will be used for greater development of the national transporter.
"There is a misunderstanding that Railways is being privatised. However, I want to make it clear that we are not privatising Railways. We cannot go in this direction. You don't have to worry. It is neither our wish nor thinking," he said.
(With inputs from agencies)