Fuel price hike to put Rs8bn more burden on cash-strapped Railways

The recent hike in the prices of petroleum products will put an additional burden of Rs8 billion per year on the cash-strapped Pakistan Railways (PR).

In this regard, the top management of the public utility met on Tuesday to discuss the impact and devise a viz-a-viz strategy to address the challenge.

The meeting at the PR Headquarters in Lahore was presided over by Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique. The annual losses of the PR are already touching Rs40 billion, said a top official, adding that the government must come forward with a plan to save the organization.

The PR management is seeking more than double allocations of Rs46 billion made in the previous budget for over 40 under-execution projects, said the official.

The meeting continued for hours and discussed the option of privatization of the maximum number of trains, according to an insider.

The total losses of the PR had surged to a whopping Rs1.5 trillion since 1980 and over 80 per cent of them were added since the start of 2000.

The department remained dormant during the three-and-half-year tenure of the former government of the PTI just like previous tenures of the PML-N, PPP and the Musharraf government. The PTI had already proposed the complete privatization of the PR, an idea vehemently opposed by the current minister.

Saad claimed the PTI had done nothing for the revival of the mainline-1 project, a flagship program for the revival of the colonial legacy under Chinese investment through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The official sources said the current administration has decided to aggressively work on the plans to receive funds from China as soon as possible.

As the government is set to present the federal budget on June 10, the meeting reviewed different developmental projects for the next financial year.

The minister announced a ban on the import of different parts which could be prepared locally and also directed to make full austerity measures to save every litre of fuel, officials said.

The Railways decided to provide free internet facilities on all passenger and express trains. It announced the security of trains will be further tightened. The official said the plan to hire more staff for the PR Police had been put on pause until the approval of the budget. The minister said no compromise will be made on cleanliness and quality of food for passengers.

Iftikhar Alam is a correspondent writing on religion, politics, agriculture, and energy. He takes people on a rich journey through the culture of Punjab. He tweets @imiftikharalam and can be reached at iftikharalam@live.com.