Private companies who start operating train services will be allowed to set their own passenger fares by the Indian Government. There will be no upper limit for these fares and the private companies will require no stamp of approval from the government for the fares they decide on.
Earlier, under under the Railways Act, only the Union government or the Railway Ministry could decide fares for passenger trains in India.
The move towards increased privatisation of the Indian Railways began in July when the Ministry of Railways invited Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to private players for the operation of passenger train services. Before this, in 2018, the government had begun outsourcing commercial and on-board services to private players.
Private players had been invited to invest in 151 passenger trains that will run in over 109 routes and in modernising railway stations in New Delhi and Mumbai.
This is part of a large scale privatisation project that the Modi government has implemented during the COVID-19 crisis when there is more difficulty in opposing the move. The government has announced that all sectors except 18 strategic sectors will be completely privatised and even in the strategic sectors, there will be a maximum of 4 PSUs in operation. Crucial public services like the railways, electricity, coal, banking, etc are moving towards complete privatisation.
Swati Krishna writes, “Indian railways are the largest public enterprise and the largest employer in the country.” The massive infrastructure of the Indian railways, although endangered in its quality due to its underfunding by the government, is the property of the people of India, build on their lands, using their resources and labour. It is the right of every Indian to access the railways as the most widely connected and affordable means of transport connecting different parts of the country.
The majority of the population of the country will not be able to access the private railways which will probably be operated along profitable routes. On the other hand, the remaining government trains will become more and more overcrowded, slow, congested, and low in quality. In a post-pandemic world, this will result in only the privileged sections of society being able to access safe and hygienic travel, hence risking the health and lives of the poor and marginalized passengers and their communities.