9:09 am - Sunday March 15, 2015

Death of Pakistan Railways

Random Thoughts

Ever since the British government introduced the Railways to India as a means of travel in place of bullock carts, it became the most convenient mode travel for the rich and the poor in the first to third classes from one end of the country to the other. Trains gradually got better and more convenient means of travel in India and people fell in love with trains. When Pakistan came into being the railway system was also divided. For years it was the most convenient means of travel, but gradually it started decaying like everything else, thanks to incompetent and corrupt governments. But all limits have been crossed now. The railways have become virtually non existent due to large scale corruption and mismanagement under an incompetent and corrupt minister, because the government wants to please its allied party ANP of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. Only to keep this party happy the federal government has sacrificed the country’s Railway system.

Most of the Railway engines are lying as junk. The others have become so defective that they fail while moving on track. Trains generally get late by ten to twelve hours while poor travelers who have to take trains to reach their small towns or villages suffer badly. Thousands of travelers remain stranded on dirty platforms like cattle. Presently the number of Railway engines has been reduced to only 120 causing massive reduction in the number of running trains by 62 causing great inconvenience to thousands of passengers. The PR ministry with a huge staff headed by ANP Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour is sitting idle doing nothing. The minister could at least resign as a matter of self-respect if the government does not listen to his pleas for more funds. Or the prime minister should sack him on charges of inefficiency to save the much needed money wasted on his salary and perks.

The PR General Manager told the National Assembly standing committee recently that Railways have gone bankrupt and need Rs 11.1billion to avoid closing down more routes and trains. A large number of trains have already been closed causing great inconvenience to thousands of train travelers. But who cares! We have reached a stage of national bankruptcy while the rulers are playing their proverbial flute like the present day Neros. The Railway General Manager further told the standing committee that PR requires another Rs.6.1 billion for the rehabilitation of 145 locomotives which are lying in the junkyard for a number of years. Likewise we need another Rs 2 billion for the repair of coaches and Rs 2 billion for track maintenance and Rs One billion to create strategic reserves of oil and diesel. Be sure Mr. General Manager you will never get this kind of money from the government. So you better close the shop and go home. By the way don’t you make any profit in your business? If you do, where has it gone? In your pockets perhaps! If so, please shut your shop and enjoy the fruits of your inefficiency and corruption and twiddle your thumbs and let PR and poor travelers go to hell. They can go back to the old system of their forefathers and start travelling by bullock carts.

There was another proposal. If money is not available with the government, it can increase fares by 10 to 20 percent linking various categories of travelers and shift the load to poor passengers. The Railway Ministry is also thinking of sacking some 78,000 employees in case 36 passenger train services are cancelled. The government has finally approved a grant of Rs. 11.1 billion, but the Railway Minister is not optimistic that this promise will not be fulfilled. He said in January last year, the Finance Minister had approved a similar grant, but it was not paid. He called the Prime Minister, “the best the country ever had”, probably to please him to pay the grant. Otherwise it is a cruel joke.

The National Assembly was informed that PR owns 90,326 acres of land in Punjab, 39,423 acres in Sindh, 2,622 acres in Balochistan and 9,708 in Pakhtunkhwa. Not a single acre of land has been sold. Only 15.55 acres of land has been leased out at various places. He said that PR recently stopped running trains on seven popular routes after its losses crossed Rs 50 billion. No doubt this is very valuable land and even if a part of it is sold many problems of trains and passengers will be solved. The value of the land is estimated around Rs 246 billion but the government, due to political expediencies did not or could not open the Pandora’s box of the sale of land which will bring the land mafias into play with political support from various powerful groups as well as controversies between Federal and Provincial governments over the ownership of land. To put simply and briefly the element of mega corruption will come into play as it does in all such situations. If the railway system of Pakistan is to de saved and the interest of millions of passengers is to be served the government of Pakistan cannot do it. Only the Supreme Court can handle the situation because it is the only corruption free and competent institution in the country. It is requested that to save the railway system from total collapse the Railway minister along with his corrupt underlings must be sacked. For once the government should appoint a clean and competent minister along with a team of equally competent officers to put the railways system on track. The government should also ensure that the huge amount of money recently sanctioned by the government to help the railways from total extinction. Shahid Kardar who was appointed State Bank governor some months ago got fed up with the government’s persistent demands of the government to print notes worth billions which were giving tremendous boost to price escalation of goods and services in the country. A recent quote from Mr Kardar is worth noting; “Just three public enterprises; PIA, Steel Mills and Railways are together losing a crore rupees a minute.” God save Pakistan.


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