Sheikh Rashid is back at his old job as Railways Minister and is already spewing fire; claiming that the Pakistan Railways (PR) faces a debt of Rs37-40 billion left behind by the "previous corrupt, dishonest government" which had been "tooting its own horns claiming that the industry is doing well". Along came a few novel ideas on how he plans to turn this around; as well as several problematic ones.
While initiative from a new Minister is to be expected – and Sheikh Rashid’s personality is prone to rhetoric and hyperbole – it is pertinent to remind Mr Rashid that he would do well not to upend PR overmuch – the department is a loss making enterprises, but the polices of the previous government had been steadily reducing that number.
During the previous government’s tenure the annual revenue of Railways increased from Rs.18 billion in 2013 to Rs.40.1 billion. The actual losses had been reduced to Rs.27 billion as compared to Rs.35 billion in 2012-13. The introduction of online ticketing, increase in punctuality, focus on freight trains, the upgrade of railway track, and reclamation of PR land taken over by land mafias had played a crucial role in this.
While Mr Rashid’s insistence of focusing on freight route’s and adding new commercial routes is encouraging, his stated policy of selling PR land and to “rent out the railway tracks even” is highly concerning. Onetime revenue through a sale may improve the numbers in the short term but it will do nothing to solve the fundamental problems besetting the organisation.
Furthermore, previous sales of PR land have been fraught with controversies and accusations of corruption and kickbacks. The example of the controversial Royal Palm – constructed on land sold by PR under then Railways Minister, ex-DG ISI Javed Ashraf Qazi – should be ample warning. Thrown away on dirt cheap rates to a ‘friendly’ firm; the sale caused PR a loss of Rs4.8 billion, and is being litigated to this day.