Govt Constitutes Task Force To Privatise 150 Trains, 50 Railway Stations
The BJP-led government is in the process of forming a task force to hand over operations of 150 trains and 50 railway stations to private operators in a “time-bound manner”.
A letter from Niti Aayog’s CEO Amitabh Kant to Chairperson Railway Board VK Yadav said an ’empowered group of secretaries’ will be constituted to “drive the process”.
The letter written by Amitabh Kant criticised the Railway Board for the incessant delay in the railway station redevelopment project, The Wire reported. While the Railway Board was supposed to take up 400 railways stations for upgrading into world-class stations, he commented that very little work had begun so far.
This ambitious plan, announced on the 8th of February 2017 after the Budget announcement that pegged Rs 1.31 lakh crores to railway modernisation and redevelopment, has only been rolling around official meeting rooms.
It was envisioned to be worked out as a public-private partnership but has been modified to be fully privatised as the government’s initial proposal received a lacklustre response from private players.
In the letter, Kant expressed his disappointment over the snail-paced execution of the railway modernisation plan and cited the examples of privatised airports for drawing inspiration.
“I had a detailed discussion with the Minister of Railways wherein it was decided that there is a necessity to take up the matter on priority for at least 50 stations. Considering the recent experience in the privatisation of six airports, we will adopt a similar process for setting up an empowered group of secretaries to drive the process in a time-bound manner,” he said.
In 2017, when the idea of redevelopment was floated, work on 23 stations was to begin across the country as Phase 1 of the 1 lakh crore project. The influx of private investment was expected to be Rs 9000 crore for those 23 stations. The government had also planned to give Malayasia 20 of these stations for redevelopment and a long-term partnership was to be forged on a government-to-government basis involving a 10,000 crore investment as per a senior Railway Ministry official quoted by The Hindu Business Line.
On 22nd August 2016, the government had also looped in the Boston Consultancy Group (BCG) for a contract of Rs 8 crores to guide and strategise with the Railway Board on a unique development model for each of the earmarked 400 stations and a detailed 47-page-report was submitted by the BCG in June 2017 elaborating on the plan’s execution.
But even with such partnerships and consultations, the 1 lakh crore project had been stalled and delayed since its inception despite the same political party winning a majority in the 2019 polls.
“Despite the fact that the aforesaid commitment was given for last several years, the actual implementation of the same has not happened except for a few isolated cases in which a few stations have been taken up through Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) Mode,” Amitabh Kant said in the letter.
This October, the Indian Railways, in a first, let go of its monopoly over railway operations by allowing the IRCTC, its own subsidiary to operate the Lucknow-New Delhi Tejas Express. IRCTC is an e-ticketing and catering corporation for the Indian Railways and a non-railway operator. This handover was the first in its 166-year-history.