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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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US geopolitical interests offer Iran sanctions loophole amid mounting tension

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Indian-backed Iranian port of Chabahar has emerged as a major loophole in a tightening military and economic noose and ever harsher US sanctions that President Donald J. Trump, reluctant to be sucked into yet another war, sees as the best way to either force Tehran to its knees or achieve regime change.

Alice Wells, the State Department’s assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, said during a meeting with Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani that Chabahar had been exempted at Afghanistan’s request.

The State Department said earlier that the exemption was granted because it was related to “reconstruction assistance and economic development for Afghanistan, which includes the development and operation of Chabahar Port.”

US officials said privately that the exemption was also a nod to India that sees Chabahar as vital for the expansion of its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asian republics.

They said it was moreover an anti-dote to the Chinese backed port of Gwadar just 70 kilometres down the Arabian Sea coast in the troubled neighbouring Pakistani province of Balochistan.

That may be a long shot, certainly as long as India like much of the rest of the world is restricted by the US sanctions in its economic and commercial dealings with Iran.

The exemption comes however as Chinese security concerns in Balochistan as well as Pakistan at large are mounting.

China’s massive US$45 billion plus Belt and Road-related infrastructure investment in Pakistan with Gwadar and Balochistan at its core has become a prime target for nationalist insurgents that has officials in Beijing worried. It has also reinforced long-standing doubts in some circles in Beijing about the viability of the project.

Dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, China sees the project, involving a network of roads, railways and pipelines that would link Gwadar to China’s troubled north-western province of Xinjiang as a key economic component of its brutal effort to Sincize the strategic region’s Turkic Muslim population.

“China, you came here (Balochistan) without our consent, supported our enemies, helped the Pakistani military in wiping our villages. But now it’s our time… Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) guarantees you that CPEC will fail miserably on the Baloch land. Balochistan will be a graveyard for your expansionist motives,” a commander of the BLA’s Majeed Brigade said in a video message released a week after militants stormed a hilltop, highly secured luxury hotel in Gwadar, killing five people.

The BLA claimed a month earlier responsibility for an attack on a convoy on a highway leading out of Gwadar in which 14 Pakistani military personnel died and an assault last year on the Chinese consulate in Karachi.

The attacks and threats have prompted Chinese sceptics of China’s massive investment in Pakistan to express their doubts more publicly.

“Gwadar wants to be in the shipping business, but it has failed to do so. Pakistan’s economy is not very good, and this port has become very wasteful … under these circumstances, including with the hotel attack, how can China conduct its business? The roads and traffic cannot even be maintained,” said Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming.

While many in Pakistan believe that the BLA enjoys Iranian support and Iranians are convinced that Pakistan enables shadowy Islamic militants who have claimed responsibility for a rare suicide bombing in December in Chabahar and attacks on Revolutionary Guards elsewhere in the Iranian province of Sistan and Balochistan, fact of the matter is that both countries are vulnerable to Baloch insurgents.

The situation on both sides of the Iranian-Pakistani border is complicated by suspicions that the violence also has links to the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia and that the Baloch provinces of Pakistan and Iran could become a stage for a proxy war.

Amid reports that China has reached out to Baloch nationalist leaders in exile, Pakistani security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana cautioned that the exiles may no longer be in control.

“The new leadership of the Baloch insurgency largely hails from the educated middle class with urban backgrounds and is not hiding in Europe; therefore, it does not face the sort of constraints that exiled Baloch leaders do vis-à-vis Iran,” Mr. Rana said.

Mr. Rana noted that Iran’s influence in Pakistani Balochistan was visible in oil smuggled across the border, Iranian products in grocery shops and the supply of electricity to the coastal strip of Makran that includes Gwadar.

“For Pakistan, the security cost of CPEC is increasing which could frustrate the Chinese as well as foreign and local investors,” Mr. Rana warned.

For now, China confronts a more serious challenge in Gwadar, Balochistan as well as other parts of Pakistan that are struggling with un-related incidents of political violence compared to India and Chabahar.

That could change if the Saudi Iranian component of the low level Baloch insurgency spins out of control with the escalating stand-off between the United States and Iran.

Iran appears to have pinned its hopes that Chabahar will be shielded from the impact of regional tensions on the perceived US geopolitical need to protect India’s interest in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Said Pir Mohammad Mollazeh, an Iranian Afghanistan and Central Asia scholar: “US long-term geopolitical interests, due to the lack of relations with Iran, require India to maintain its position in the region and protect India as a partner in Central Asia… Chabahar port is considered to be a very important and strategic which is an opportunity for our country to enable Iran to reduce its sanctions by means of economic exchanges in Chabahar.”

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Pointless Colonial Massacres and Post-Colonial Wars and Killings on the Indian Subcontinent

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Two colonial mass killings from the twentieth century are always remembered:  The Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre on April 23, 1930 in Peshawar (then India, now in Pakistan) was the result of peaceful demonstrations protesting the arrest of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who had called for a nonviolent movement of ‘patience and righteousness.’  Authorities nervous at the size of the crowds called in the military.  The local Garhwal Rifles refused an order to fire.  A special city disturbance column and four armored cars were sent for;  they did not.  The number of dead vary with the source ranging from 20 to 400.  Whatever the figures, the incident legitimized the protest movement and creating a new Gandhi of the northwest in Ghaffar Khan. 

Pakistan since independence has had insurgencies — in the Northwest where Peshawar is located,in Baluchistan (ongoing) and, the worst of all in  its eastern half in 1971 that led to the birth of Bangladesh.  Estimates of casualties range from 300,000 to 3 million. 

This year is the centenary of the notorious Jallianwalla Bagh massacre in Amritsar.  April 13, 1919 was the day of Baisakhi, a major Sikh festival, so people had come to the holy city from surrounding Punjab villages and gathered to listen to speakers.  They were also unhappy with the deportation of independence leaders Dr. Saifuddinn Kitchlew and Dr. Satya Pal out of state to Dharamsala.  The protesters were mostly Sikh, the leaders being deported a Muslim and a Hindu, and India then secular in the minds of the people. 

Brig-General Reginald Dyer the local commander had banned all meetings.  To him the crowd gathering in the Bagh was a challenge to authority.  He took a contingent of Gurkha troops and proceeded forthwith to disperse what to him was an illegal assembly.  It is worth noting that Nepali Gurkhas are alien to the area, speak a different language, and look more like Tibetans.  The force took up positions on a raised bank at the main entrance and were ordered to fire on the unarmed crowd.  People tried to flee toward the other exits and in the stampede some were trampled.  Yet the firing continued for an incomprehensible ten whole minutes using up 1650 rounds and leaving hundreds dead and over a thousand wounded.

No respite for the Sikhs despite their anti-Muslim stance during the 1947 partition.  In 1984 following Indira Gandhi’s assassination by a Sikh bodyguard — itself a result of her military response killing Sikh religious zealots occupying the Amritsar Golden Temple — riots broke out.  An estimated 8000-17,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi and Haryana.  The connivance of the Delhi police and the Congress party has long been suspected, and Human Rights Watch has complained of no prosecution for the killings.  Ditto for the perpetrators of the Muslim pogrom in Gujarat during Narendra Modi’s rule.

While the callousness of the Qissa Khwani Bazaar and Jallianwalla Bagh incidents horrifies, the number killed pales in comparison to what has happened since independence.  Within months of freedom, India invaded the independent principality of Hyderabad, allied to the British since the 18th century.  An estimated 200,000 people were killed and many fled to Pakistan.

It also invaded, occupied (1973) and then annexed Sikkim in 1975, a Himalayan foothill monarchy since 1642.  The suppressed independence movement in neighboring Assam and the Northeast and other ongoing insurgencies across at least a quarter of India continue. 

In Kashmir, a decades long struggle for some kind of autonomy has cost tens of thousands of lives.  Estimates vary from 40 to 80 thousand.  Some Indians have a conscience:  Long critical of India’s stance, the Booker Prize winning novelist and peace activist Arundhati Roy has called the Modi government ‘reckless’ in its policy there.

The Muslim minority in India appears to be intimidated and abused.  A recent feature story on Chamanganj, a Muslim neighborhood in Kanpur, illuminates the distress and discrimination experienced by Muslims.  The Congress candidate never visits; the BJP candidate shows up hoping to capture some votes but his party’s policy is notoriously anti-Muslim.

The violence against Christians is also on the rise.  Opendoorsusa.org reports over 12,000 incidents last year, while the number of churches attacked rose dramatically from 34 to 98.  It has now become the 10th most dangerous country in the world for Christians on the 2019 World Watch List.

A secular India, the pride of Indian independence leader and its first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is under threat.  In its place, a muscular Hindu nationalist agenda enforced by goons from nationalist organizations has been labeled “saffron terror”.  The Hudson Institute called these attacks “not inchoate mob violence, triggered by … insult; rather they involved careful planning by organized Hindu extremists …”

The record is surprising yet evident:  Independent India has killed hundreds of times more people than the Dyer atrocity, and the present-day Indian subcontinent is becoming a noticeable contrast to the relatively secular country of 1919.  In India itself, the Modi government and its affiliates by encouraging Hindu nationalism must shoulder the blame. 

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The Durand Line Issue

Hareem Aqdas

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The Durand Line is a 2,200-kilometre debated border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was set up in 1893 between Sir Mortimer Durand, a British negotiator and respectful hireling of the British Raj, and Abdur Rahman Khan, the Afghan Amir, to settle the constrain of their individual circles of impact and make stride discretionary relations and exchange between the two nations. Afghanistan was considered by the British as a free state at the time, in spite of the fact that the British controlled its remote issues and discretionary relations. The single-page assertion, dated 12 November 1893, contains seven brief articles, counting a commitment not to work out obstructions past the Durand Line.

 A joint British-Afghan boundary overview took put beginning from 1894, covering a few 1,300 km of the border. Built up towards the near of the British-Russian “Great Game”, the coming about line set up Afghanistan as a buffer zone between British and Russian interface within the locale.

The line, as somewhat adjusted by the Anglo-Afghan Settlement of 1919, was acquired by Pakistan in 1947, taking after its independence. The forced Durand Line cuts through the Pashtun tribal ranges and assist south through the Balochistan locale, politically partitioning ethnic Pashtuns, as well as the Baloch and other ethnic bunches, who live on both sides of the border. It demarcates Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan of northern and western Pakistan from the northeastern and southern areas of Afghanistan.

From a geopolitical and geostrategic viewpoint, it has been depicted as one of the foremost unsafe borders within the world. Although Pakistan recognized the Durand Line as an international border, it remains to a great extent unrecognized by Afghanistan. In 2017, in the midst of cross-border pressures, previous Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that Afghanistan will “never perceive” the Durand Line as the international border between the two countries.

The Durand line remains a bone of contention between the two nations and a primary reason why Afghanistan and Pakistan have yet failed to establish cordial relations. Afghanistan claims a chunk of the KPK and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan on the basis that it was acceded to Pakistan, though it was originally a part of Afghanistan, with people dwelling on each sides having the same culture, language and way of life etc.

What is very clear is that relations between the two states have been tinged with hostility ever since Pakistan became an independent state in 1947. There are mainly two interrelated, historical reasons for this: the problem of the “Durand Line” — the shared but disputed border of the two countries; and Afghan support for the “Pakhtoonistan” movement in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP)

The questions is answered by both nations with a bias towards their respective national interest in mind, both Pakistan and Afghanistan claiming areas divided by the Durand line as their legitimate part.

Major accusations of Afghanistan over the Durand line are: its legitimacy period has terminated; it was in the original agreement between the British and the Afghans claimed its validity only for 100 years, which has expired. Nevertheless, neither Afghan government, nor the foremost dynamic advocates of this see have ever displayed any plain instrument demonstrating their claim. Nor do we discover, upon looking at the pertinent archives, i.e. the Durand Line assertion and the rest of the records confirmed until 1896 by the individual committees for assurance and boundary of the British-Afghan border, any arrangement confining the term of the understanding to 100 year time. It is undoubtedly a riddle how this supposition might spread over the nation without being addressed at all.

Another claim of Afghanistan in the de-legitimizing the boarded is that the assertions relating to it collapsed when the British exchanged powers to Pakistan. The agreement was done with British India and not with Pakistan. This was a main reason that Afghanistan was one of the very few countries that opposed the addition of Pakistan in the UN- since it alleged it of illegally annexing Afghanistan’s territory.

One more accusation to not accept the boarder comes as the understandings were persuasively forced upon Afghanistan-it is ethically unmerited- is certainly an issue worth encourage talk and contention. In any case, whereas one may concede the dispute to be fair and genuine, it remains deficiently to refute the status of the Durand Line as an international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Durand Line understanding of 1893 isn’t the sole point of reference in border assessment. At slightest other four assertions (of 1905, 1919, 1921 and 1930), which had the assent of both sides, must be counseled. Clearly, Afghanistan cannot claim that all of the afterward four assertions were concluded in a coercive environment, particularly the Kabul 1921 understanding for foundation of neighborly commercial relations, which not as it were marked but approved in 1922, and beneath which disobedience was traded by the agents of both states in Kabul.

The boarder is not rejected by any other party of the world except Afghanistan itself, making the Afghan case further weakened.

No matter how much Afghanistan retaliates over this matter, the Durand line is widely accepted as an international boarder and the afghan claim will likely not bear fruit. The Afghans should rather hold the British accountable for the “so said” unfair distribution and not Pakistan, since Pakistan did not decide into this matter at all but was a decision purely made between the Afghans and the British- rather battle the British towards their claim and not make this a political issue more than a legitimate claim.

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