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The Sad story of the Indian Railways

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The Indian railways’ network is one of the largest in the world and the second largest in Asia, next only to China. To put things into perspective, India is the seventh largest country in the world, a third the physical size of its neighbour, China. The Indian Railways is entirely owned by the Government of India and is operated by the Ministry of Railways. It operates several hundred Express,

Superfast & Passenger trains on a daily basis. It also has the responsibility of operating a number of local and urban trains. Over 22 million people utilize the Indian Railways every-day to commute to their destinations. The Indian Railways network is a mix & Mash of Broad, meter and narrow gauges. At the same time, diesel engines ply alongside electric engines all the while steam powered engines are still being phased out. The world’s eighth largest employer, over 1.4 million Indians get their paychecks from the Indian Railways, which employs more personnel than the Indian Army. In spite of corruption, nepotism, red-tape bureaucracy and political wrangling, the Indian Railways is the link that joins the entire nation. It is the very chain that binds us as a nation, a glue that keeps us together and a welcome sight for the sore eyes of the millions of the improvised folks who have gone to distant places to earn a two-time meal. The railway in India evokes the warm memories of home. All commuters of the Indian Railways are witness to the very thought of unity in diversity, the good old virtues of sharing and caring, the idea of a healthy debate, the nostalgia of cold air hitting the face and the cacophony of the million myriad small worlds that home in a gigantic canvas of our nation. The railways in India evoke the essence of being an Indian.

However, in the recent past, the Indian Railways has started hogging in the news for some very serious accidents. Train derailments, a rarity in the past has become commonplace. Every day, some or the other train is found to derailed or overturned, causing a great loss of time, revenue and sometimes, human lives too. A Railway Minister offered his resignation on successive fatal train derailments. His resignation was rejected but he was transferred to another Ministry in the recent Ministry shuffles. While official investigations are ongoing, sections in the media and common populace have placed the blame on a plethora of factors ranging from a lack of communication between various stakeholders, worn out tracks to even hooligans cutting tracks to instil terror. Not only train derailments, the Indian Railways is plagued by various issues ranging from quality control in food provided on board its trains, the overcharging for standard products by attendant staff to whole scale server crashes while ticket booking. It is often said that booking a Tatkal ticket( an emergency ticket booked in the 24 hours before the train’s departure) has become the 3rd most difficult thing to do in India, the first two obviously being marrying your love and getting yourself selected in the prestigious 3Is (IIT-IIM-IAS).

There is a lot of noise being generated that railways is over-charging or even outright, fleecing its customers. Prima facie, it appears to be the case. Tatkal tickets routinely charge 2-4 times the amount of the conventional fare and dynamic pricing has made some train tickets as expensive as flight tickets. But who is to blame for this? Why are the Railways forced to charge absurd rates for even small routes? Why is there not a rational pricing mechanism in place for the railways?

The blame rests squarely upon successive governments and railway ministers who used the Indian railways as a vote fetching tool and nothing more. Projects and trains were always sanctioned to the home states and districts of the executive and factories set up in constituencies of the crème-la-crème of the administration to sway public opinion, without any consideration being given to profitability or revenue rationalization. The Rail Coach Factories sanctioned at Lalganj in Uttar Pradesh and in Bihar are a testament to this politicking.  Successive governments withheld or withdrew increasing passenger rates (due to public outcry and cement their pro-poor positioning) and increased freight rates (why cares about Industries anyway?). In a way, this was justified. The Indian Railways is a government undertaking meant for the benefit of the Indian Citizens. The passenger fares had to remain low and sustainable so that entire India could rely on the railways for transport. But in a demonstration of very poor political economics, successive governments did not hike the railway passenger fares even when circumstances could have dictated otherwise. In one famous incident, a railway minister was sacked by his party chief who was in a coalition with the ruling dispensation for daring to effect a modest hike in the passenger fares. Yes, even today Indian Railways charges pennies for distances and on most routes, its conventional fares are a fraction of the Roadways and the railways. For examples, on the Lucknow-Delhi route, for the roadways, the fares vary from Rs 550/- (for a general purpose bus) to Rs 1450/- (Applicable for Scania like High-end buses). The conventional railway fare is Rs 185/- (for a second seater- akin to a General purpose bus), Rs 350/- (for a sleeper’s berth where you can comfortably sleep and stretch your legs) to Rs 1300/- (for a cozy 2nd AC coach seat) for the same 640 km stretch. Over and above this, Railways also provides concessions for children and senior citizens. A flight ticket on the same stretch costs around Rs. 1500/- and much more, depending on the demand and the date. Even a Tatkal ticket for the same route costs in the neighbourhood of Rs 2000/- which is comparatively well-priced if you compare the comfort and speed of the railway service. Furthermore, the railways lose a substantial sum on every conventional fare ticket booked. This, along with the massive ticket-less travelling and corruption, forces the Indian Railways to ask for subsidies and dole-outs from the Indian exchequer. Hence, as evident from the above numbers, there is an urgent need to increase the passenger fares or the railways has to come up with alternative ways to increase revenue. Tatkal tickets, dynamic pricing, increasing revenue from advertising are some of the ways the railways can improve the cash flow.

The freight operations, once the cash cow, of the Indian Railways, has now been sucked dry and freight rates, which were earlier competitive with the road transport is now reeling under multiple blows of successive hikes and has been highly uncompetitive. In the fiscal year 2015-2016, Indian Railways posted the lowest revenue growth since 2010-11. The Revenue growth in 2015-16 was just 4.6%, much lower than the 10-19% growth the national carrier registered in the previous four fiscal years and hoped to replicate. These facts will be a dampener for hopes that the railways will buttress the government’s capital expenditure plans and its future expansion plans.

The freight volumes are falling.  This is a major cause of concern as the railways generate three-fifths of its revenues from freight. This is undermining revenue growth. The weak revenue trends reflect the subdued economic activity. Cement, Coal and container traffic, in particular, fell.  The slump in revenue growth is also partly due to the uncompetitive position and impractical mess the railways has got itself into. Successive tariff hikes (courtesy, the earlier budgets) and the rapid & sustained fall in diesel prices has helped the roadways to become competitive, especially in the lucrative short-haul freight traffic. Experts point out that Rail-road freight tariff variation has reached a tipping point now as the fall in diesel prices and improvement in road infrastructure has made rail freight transportation a far less attractive proposition.

While we may find it very convenient to vent out our ire on the Railways for what we believe is the arbitrariness of the pricing mechanisms but the truth remains, the Indian Railways is under-funded, over-staffed and highly essential for our country. Let us not forget that for every Tatkal ticket which we claim is over-priced, many more underpriced tickets are also sold and several more, travel without a ticket, causing a loss of revenue and a dent in the finances of the Indian exchequer. This is the sad story of the often-abused Indian Railways.

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South Asia

India – Nepal bilateral relations stripped by China’s hegemonic theme in South Asia

Debadatta Mishra

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During this amid global pandemic, India meets particular strain from its northern neighbors’ country’s foreign policy. India and China have a significant disparity over the border issue. India is standing up to china by standstill the economic activities in both countries. India and Nepal have a strong bilateral relation performed was a significant role in Himalayan frontiers. India and Nepal shared deep cultural, economic, social, and political relations over many centuries. The ties between both countries frayed slowly started from the border disputes that arose after defense minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a crucial road going through lipulekh to Kailash and Manasarovar, that route could quickly build connectivity within India with the Tibetan Plateau. The Nepal government protested that it could challenge the national sovereignty and status quo and fueled the #back of India movement in Nepal, which became a principal reason for bilateral instability in both countries. Nepal proclaims 400 sq km of Indian land in Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura as part of Nepal territory. Kathmandu sends the new political map to the United Nations and Google for international recognition. India and Nepal claim the same disputed territory on their political map. India was the primary trade partner of Nepal, more than 65% of Nepal’s trade deals are possible through the Indian ports, so India dominated a larger scale in Nepal import and export sectors. In the meantime, China attempts to replace India’s position in Nepal’s economic and political domain. Recently Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “China and Nepal have always treated each other as equals,” although China revived the rail project between Nepal and China, the project cost estimate over USD 300 Million, with the determined deadline of completion in 2025. After the Rail connectivity, China ultimately became a lager trade partner in Nepal overthrow India. The domestic politics of Nepal, Currently Nepal ruling party Nepal Communist Party (NCP), is looking for political interest through China. Nepal is tilting towards China under the leadership of Prime Minister K P Oli and his Nepal Communist Party. Nepal took actions including banned Indian private news network broadcasting in Nepal, changed its citizen’s law, which makes disconcerted for India and constructed a helipad in a disputed location. China people liberation army (PLA) recently deploy the troops in Lipulekh pass, which currently disputed land between India and Nepal border. China mainly intervenes with India and Nepal’s disputes to obtain Nepal support accomplished to constrain India. China played a pivotal role in generating the anti-Indian rhetoric approach in Nepal’s internal domain.

Why is Nepal significant for China’s expansionism?

In Contemporary world politics, Dragon adopted an encroach approach upon neighbors’ countries. Nepal became a preeminent part of Chinese command and strategies to contend with India in every possible channel. Although the ambitious project of China to revive the ancient silk route and became the dominant financial capital in south Asia, it could be possible by Nepal’s proximity. China is striving to stimulate and tempt Nepal with multiple aids, economic growth, and acquisition by coordinating with the current ruling party of Nepal. On 2nd July 2018, The Business Standard published an article that highlights “by throwing money at Nepal, China limiting India influence in the region” for an extended period, China was invested in Nepal to gain political backing. Nepal is undoubtedly an essential aspect of the security of Indian’s borders. China’s military troops frequently entered in Indian territory (northeast state), and Nepal always became a barrier for such expansionism footsteps towards India’s territory. The border dispute was not new between both countries started from the Sugauli Treaty to kali river disputes, and both nations resolve such issues with bilateral negotiations. India also needs to ensure and revitalize the peace treaty between both countries. As sooner India solve the border dispute, it ultimately creates less chance to china’s intervene.

Since the dispute occurred, India and Nepal finally agreed for a custom high-level meeting regarding address the connectivity and development in both countries. India needs to adopt soft power diplomacy to maintain goodwill political relations with Nepal. As this global pandemic circumstances, India provided pharmaceutical and financial assistance to Nepal citizens. As a democratic ethics laden nation, Nepal – India border issue is easily solvable, with the restoration of the peace treaty with the modernized canvas. India requires adopting a new foreign policy to retrieve peaceful treaties with a new approach to cooperation with Nepal. India always admired the neighborhood’s first policy. The regional cooperation in the south Asian region necessitated fostering by India. India requires to get its act together and promote the regional cooperation structures with an inter-governmental organization that would unite the southern Asia region, such as the SAARC and BIMSTEC.

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Rethinking “Naya” Pakistan

Ashish Dangwal

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“We (Pakistan) will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own (Atom bomb), We have no other choice!” said ZA Bhutto, the then President of Pakistan. Almost 55 years have passed since then and Pakistan now, is on the verge of getting a title of ‘a failing nation’. The whole journey of this nation is full of ups and downs. Prime Minister Imran Khan came into power by promising to create a “Naya Pakistan”, however almost 2 years have passed and there is no sign of any major development in the country. From the last two decades, Pakistan is being labelled as the failed nation and has suffered bankruptcy along with bad governance-related issues. Although having an alliance with U.S.A (earlier) and now with China has helped the nation to overcome these Situations but nothing major can be pointed out. The current Prime Minister Imran Khan followed the same modus operandi of any other political party, i.e. to criticize the previous governments for the economic downturn and didn’t achieve anything significant in the process of reviving Pakistan’s economy. The economic downturn can be seen with the multiplicity of other factors such as the low foreign exchange reserves, low exports and high inflation. During his election rallies, PM Imran Khan promised to put the nation on the path of development and even expressed his views to promote the relations with India. However, during his tenure, the relations with India has only worsened. From domestic affairs to international affairs, the involvement of the Pakistani Army in the policymaking has increased in recent years. Gopalaswami Parthasarathy once said that “Every country has an army but in Pakistan, an army has a country”, this very simple statement shows the deep involvement of the Pakistani army in the domestic issues.

Let’s discuss the major challenges of Pakistan has facing now

Economic Challenges

India and Pakistan went different ways when India got independence from Britishers. However, the countries suffered the same fate in the early years with their same socio-economic conditions; with nearly half of the population under poverty. Both nations shared the same economic challenges but where one side India’s gradual economic development attracted foreign investors, Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan war, the emergence of religious parties and domination of army in domestic affairs made Pakistan’s economic development arduous. From 1988, Pakistan has sought assistance from the IMF more than 10 times, which indicates its bad economic policies and planning. Pakistan has always shared its GDP’s lion share to its Army and nuclear programs, unfortunately, this made Pakistan’s economic planning incompetent. According to the budget of the fiscal year 2019-20 of Pakistan, all the major economic indicators have shown a downward movement like the growth indicator went down almost by 50% from 6.2 % to 3.3 % and even the inflation indicator is expected to go down by 13%. These figures are all-time low in the last 10 years and the recent bailout package worth $ 6 billion from IMF needs strong political will power in policymaking.

Religious Minorities

The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees “fundamental rights, including equality of status, of opportunity and before the law, social, economic and political justice, and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association, subject to the law and public morality” to its citizens. Many years have passed but none of these rights were ever given to the minorities of Pakistan. In 2018, Imran Khan promised that “PTI will protect the civil, social and religious rights of minorities; their places of worship, property and institutions as laid down in the Constitution.” But according to the USCIRF 2020 report, the continuous negative trends show the systematic enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, and authorities’ failure to address forced conversions of religious minorities—including Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs—to Islam, indicating the severely restricted freedom of religion or belief. Pakistan has a rich culture because of the different religious communities but the increasing persecution and atrocities cases on the minorities shows the worrisome disparity in the society. In 2019, a Hindu veterinarian has been charged with the blasphemy against Islam and protestors even burned down the shops of many Hindu shop owners. Increasing extremism and intolerance towards minorities in Pakistan is one of the major concerns for international organisations. In the same report of USCIRF mentioned that around 80 people were imprisoned for blasphemy, and half of them are facing the life sentence or death. This law has been used as the major tool for hardliners to marginalize the minority communities and over 70 people had been lynched to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges since 1990. All these cases raise the questions on the current government and its efforts to promote a safe society.

Judicial Corruption

All the rights secured to the citizens under the Constitution are worth nothing, and a mere bubble, except guaranteed to them by an independent and virtuous Judiciary.” Said Andrew Jackson.

Having an independent judiciary system is one of the most important pillars for any democratic nation but in the case of Pakistan, it’s just another tool for oppression and abuse of power. Recently Pakistan got 120th rank in the rule of law 2020 index out of 128 countries, the three major indicators went down negative. In 2019, a video went viral in which a NAB judge was discussing how he convicted the former prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif for owning unexplained properties in London, delivered his decision under coercion. Since 1973, Armed forces targeted the independence of the judiciary to manipulate the decisions in their favour. In 2018, Islamabad high court judge was sacked for accusing the ISI as he said that country’s intelligence agency was manipulating the judicial proceedings to get the favourable decisions. This was not the first time where the involvement of ISIS undermined the independence of the judiciary system of this nation. Unfortunately, this was the case that happened during the making of so-called Naya Pakistan of Imran Khan.

Way forward

These are not the only areas where Pakistan is suffering but even the corrupt bureaucratic system and bad foreign policy choices put the country on the path to isolation in the international arena. The continuous obsession over Kashmir and growing extremism in the country can be seen in the policymaking process. People of Pakistan need to rethink about the idea of “Naya Pakistan” and the constant military involvement in their domestic affairs. Though PM Imran khan has tried to make some positive efforts towards religious minorities but he has failed to bring out any major changes in the society. As the Pakistani economy is already struggling, the recent COVID outbreak will soon put the nation on the ventilator support. One can decipher that the Imran Khan government will soon be facing major challenges in front of him and the only way forward would be taking difficult decisions such as to reform the existing economic and foreign policy. 

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South Asia

Independence and Beyond: The Indian Subcontinent

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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As Mr. Lincoln might have said …three-score and thirteen years ago the Indian subcontinent gained independence (August 14/15, 1947) from the British — although Indians were even then substantially running the country.  The Indian Civil Service and its administrators, the police and the military were all Indian, as were many members of the Viceroy’s council — the viceroy as the British government’s representative having ultimate say.  Thus the day-to-day running of the country was essentially being managed by Indians themselves.

The Hindu nationalist ideas of the Narendra Modi government are uniquely (and mistakenly) revanchist for Hindus were involved in government during the Mughal era.  A proud country treasures its history; not Mr. Modi’s BJP Party.  It and its goons instigated mobs and participated in the destruction of the Babri Mosque, where last week Mr. Modi was at a ceremony marking the beginning of construction of a Hindu temple on the Mosque site, believed by some Hindus to be the birthplace of the god Rama.

Introduced in the epic Ramayana, he is its central figure, and while it is mentioned he was born in Ayodhya, nowhere does it say where in Ayodhya.  The epic also features a monkey king Hanuman and a monkey army that helped Rama in the story.  Beliefs are beliefs and if all of this clashes with modern rationality just consider some of the ardent beliefs of other religions. 

Of course a harmonious solution for the site might have opted for the structure to be either utilized by both religions or moved to a nearby location. 

If religious structures offend, why not convert them for your own use?  That is precisely what President Erdogan has done — in the process turning Turkey’s secular tradition upside down,  In fact, he led the first Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia, a mosque now by Erdogan edict that was the former Byzantine cathedral museum and a popular tourist site in Istanbul.  Modern Turkey’s secular founder Kamal Ataturk is probably turning over in his grave. 

No such luck for the early 16th century Babri mosque, it was razed to the ground, a signal to Indian minority religions (Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, even atheists and humanists) of the primacy of Hinduism.  The ones who strived so long and hard for India’s independence, namely the secular Fabian socialist Nehru and the inclusive Gandhi would be doing the same as Ataturk, had they not been cremated.

With all its conflicts, any wonder that India hovers precariously near the bottom of the World Happiness Index, as does Delhi as one of the world’s least happy cities — about as nice to live in as Gaza.  If Pakistan (number 66 near Japan at 62) and its cities are much higher in the Happiness Index, it has its own problems … like the disappearance of activists.  The latest, a human rights activist (Idris Khattak) turned up after three months without a word to the families from the security agencies holding him.  Some are not so lucky — they never turn up.  Moreover, religious extremism has spawned anti-blasphemy laws that border on censorship and serve as a gag on free speech.  The founder of the country was Mohammed Ali Jinnah, an accomplished lawyer who had practised before the Privy Council.  A defender of democratic principles and the rule of law, suave, suited by Henry Poole of Savile Row and partial to a whisky before dinner, he would be appalled.  

Bangladesh the perennial disaster area is now suffering the triple whammy of its usual flooding, plus the new covid-19 and the consequent lost livelihoods.  It is at number 107 on the World Happiness Index, much happier than India ranked 144 and now one of the worst places to live in the world. 

In the age of management consultants, experts, specialists and private equity companies with special expertise in turnarounds, perhaps India (perhaps the subcontinent as a whole) could do worse than invite the British back and pay them to run the place.  At the very least, it is likely to make life bearable in Kashmir.

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