The Supreme Court minced no words in the case of the extravagant losses incurred by the Pakistan Railways (PR). From terming Railways as the most ‘corrupt state institution’ in Pakistan, to the judges going as far as to say that Sheikh Rasheed should have resigned following the Tezgam tragedy, the proceedings are a damning indictment of the government’s failure to improve Pakistan’s rail infrastructure.

Given that Pakistan is attempting to improve land-based trade through road and rail routes, an efficient railway ministry is needed to ensure timely and efficient transportation of commodities. The government’s attempts to improve the economic situation cannot be completely successful if it is unable to link the entire country from within and without.

Pakistan Railways lost Rs 28.62 billion in the first eight months of the current government’s tenure and a total of Rs 36.6 billion in 2019, even though Sheikh Rasheed consistently claimed that the institution was actually turning a profit. The railway infrastructure badly needs an overhaul and somehow, the government has made a barely functioning system even worse. Deliberately misleading the public in itself should be enough grounds for his removal, but the fact that the number of accidents have increased, promises about the Karachi Circular Railway and the ML-1 remain unfulfilled and observable corrupt practices are still prevalent within the department should make the government think about getting someone else to run this very important ministry.

All of the observations made by the Supreme Court are those that have been repeated in the media and among those that are familiar with the lack of progress made in the railways sector ever since Sheikh Rasheed has taken office. And this is one of the few ministries where the sitting minister cannot even blame the previous government for his own failings, as former minister Saad Rafique has cited an independent audit conducted in 2018 of the railways, which reportedly found no evidence of corruption or embezzlement during his time in office.

The ruling party just recently dismissed three ministers in its Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government because of disagreements over governance. Surely in this case, there is more than enough reason to send Sheikh Rasheed packing. The government has often claimed that merit and hard work are its central tenets when judging the progress of its ministers, and those that fail to meet standards will be replaced. How many more times will the Prime Minister look away when Pakistan Railways is quite obviously being run into the ground?

A change is needed, and PTI’s close relationship with Sheikh Rasheed’s AML should not deter the Prime Minister from handing over the reins of the Railways Ministry to more capable hands. If Sheikh Rasheed is that indispensable to the government, at least hand him a portfolio where lives are not at risk or he cannot cause this much damage.