You are on page 1of 2

Indeed, this is one train crash that we are all witnessing.

Such is the scale of the mess, in fact, that some sane minds sitting in the
lower house have even suggested a special meeting of the entire National Assembly to discuss Pakistan Railways.

And while that specifically devoted session is yet to happen, it can safely be said that the sorry affairs at the Pakistan Railways has
consumed most of the incumbent National Assembly’s question-hour sessions.

And every time, be it the federal minister for railways, Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, or the state minister, Afzal Sindhu, have
assured the house that they were working hard to improve the organisation’s operations.

However, so far, nothing has changed; Pakistan Railways continued to run into losses worth billions of rupees — so much so that it
is increasingly shutting down its operations on its various routes.

The last week was really bad in this regard. The Pakistan Railways’ management announced the suspension of six more inter-city
train services a few days ago.

Over five dozen passenger train services now stand still, a move that Railways officials say was necessary to save Rs1.5 billion a
year. And when an organisation is suffering annual losses of Rs23 billion, every billion counts.

But even more serious is the information disclosed by sources that if the current mismanagement of the national train service
continues, more such news of trains being halted would follow.

Agreed that this is a mess that has been in the making for quite some time; in the previous regime of General Pervez Musharraf,
generals in the railways’ management were accused of making money by selling prime property of the organisation at throwaway
prices.

The decision to import locomotives from China by a general, in fact, remained a heated exchange during the days of Musharraf as
it was generally said that the former had received massive kickbacks.

So serious were the concerns that the parliament was forced to take notice. In fact, one of the two special committees formed by
the National Assembly is on railways, headed by the little known PPP legislator Nadeem Afzal Gondal.

The other is the Mian Raza Rabbani led Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms. Even though the one on constitutional
reforms was constituted later than the one on railways, it has come up with the historic 18th constitutional amendment. The
committee on railways, on the other hand, is yet to come up with its findings.

Raja Mohammad Asad Khan of the PML-N, whose efforts in the parliament led to the constitution of this special committee on
railways says that it has held the required meetings and now the members are waiting for the final report. According to Mr Khan,
the committee has found four former military generals guilty of wreaking havoc with the railways.

The Royal Palm Country Club in Lahore, which has been built on railways land in complete violation of laws, is a case in point. Khan
believed that if the committee’s report was prepared on the true findings, many guilty individuals would be unmasked and that this
may help the organisation check its losses. But in the meantime the information that came to light during the meeting was
startling.

During one sitting, it was revealed that instead of retrieving over 4,000 acres of land — that is currently under illegal occupation –
Pakistan Railways continues to lease more of its land throughout the country.

At present, over 3,000 acres of PR’s land is under illegal occupation by individuals, whereas, more than 1,000 acres have been
occupied by various provincial and federal governments departments. The total area of the encroached railways land is 4,231
acres.

Interestingly, a major chunk of the railway land under illegal occupation is located in Lahore where the organisation is struggling to
free 1,839 acres from land grabbers. Other cities where the PR is eyeing its land which had been gobbled include — 333 acres in
Quetta, 246 in Karachi, 238 in Sukkur, 212 in Multan, 169 in Peshawar and 35 in Rawalpindi.

During a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly, it was revealed that PR officials were involved in the
black market; according to one account, the entire scrap market in Lahore flourishes on material stolen from the railway stores.
However, the main issue remains that of land.
A government study dating back to the 2003-2004 claims that if managed well, the land assets of the railways can earn it billions
of rupees annually.

But, it seems no one has paid heed to this advice. Only land or rather the family silver is being sold to keep trains running. But Mr
Bilour has predicted that more such announcements may follow in the near future if the government does not provide a bail out
package.

All this becomes more tragic when viewed in the contest of the state-owned railway service in India. India’ far bigger network runs
at a profit.

Lalu Prasad Yadav, an Indian politician from the state of Bihar, during his stint as minister for Indian Railways from 2004-2009,
brought a real turn around in the organisation. Perhaps his achievements are something which Mr Bilour should take a page out of.