ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet approved a bailout package of Rs11.01 billion for the crisis-ridden Pakistan Railways in December 2010. However, to this day, the hapless department, that caters to travel needs of mostly the poor, lower middle and middle class, is yet to get the promised amount.
Federal Minister for Railways Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, who is also blamed for the woes of the railways, has been agitating even on the floor of the National Assembly and even in the cabinet meetings, against being perpetually ignored, but to no avail. He once resigned but was asked to take any other ministry. However he declined the offer and continued pushing for financial help for his ministry, which has not seen any significant investment in the last 15 years.
Officials at the Railways agreed that during its 64-year history, Pakistan Railways never faced the type of crisis it has to face during these four years, as the government had little time to pay attention to its aggravating financial woes. Before PPP formed its government in the Centre with its allies, 83 million people traveled by train in 2007 and the figure was not bad in 2008. However, afterwards, the railways slipped into a quagmire, and maybe it is sinking deep in that ever since.
It needs the attention of the people’s government that how a ministry became a hurdle in the way of release of desperately-required cash for the railways, okayed by Pakistan’s highest forum i.e. the cabinet. Railway still remains an economical means of travel for 80 per cent people, who can’t afford road option, let alone aerial route for their movement. “It is alarming that an individual can be so lethal even for a state giant like Railways,” he referred to ex-finance secretary.
“About 80 percent of our passengers are either poor or belong to lower or middle class and this is a worrisome point that our democratically elected government earlier could not do enough for it,” lamented the minister during a chat with The News here.
Bilour claimed that had the Ministry of Finance, and more precisely the Finance Secretary, released funds at that time, the Railways would not have been at the receiving end and the government and he himself would not have faced the ire of people and violent images of passengers and broken down locomotives on TV channels.
Asked as to why the Ministry had blocked funds, he left it to this correspondent and public to decide whose interests were served by the atrocious approach towards the Railways, pushing it to near collapse. “I leave it to those who matter to look into the inordinate delay in funds release, which has brought us on our knees,” the minister said referring to the state of the department. The minister said that the cabinet decisions should in no way be overlooked by any ministry, as these happened only after due deliberations and taking into account all the pros and cons.
About the approval of some projects, the minister noted that seven key projects had been okayed a few days back, and it would take them over a year to bear fruit. “For example the new engines will start arriving to Pakistan after around 18 months and it means this will happen when a new government will be in place,” he pointed out.
He acknowledged that the Railways served as the backbone of any country’s means of communication, and well aware of it India pumped in billions and today, its railways was posting huge profits. “Whereas, we spent billions on roads and motorways, grossly ignoring this vital department, which still has the potential to help improve national economy,” he claimed.
“We don’t have enough engines even to pull passenger trains,” was the terse reply of the minister when asked whether it was or not a good option for the Railways to transport Nato oil from Karachi upcountry for Afghanistan.