“A focus on the freight department can turn around the financial woes of Pakistan Railways,” says the head of public relations for the ailing organisation, Abdul Hameed Razi, who is adamant that funds are not being misappropriated.
“The prime minister announced a bail-out package last year but we have not received a single rupee of the 11 billion that was promised,” Razi adds, putting the blame squarely on the government.
Investigations into the multi-billion-rupee organisation also revealed that more than 10,000 acres of land was owned by Pakistan Railways in prime locations across all four provinces. A report compiled by the National Assembly`s standing committee on railways and presented to the public accounts committee stated that the revenue potential of the alleged land could reach around Rs10 billion annually.
However, the mismanagement of Pakistan Railways cannot be applied in this specific situation. Rather, the blame lies with the failure of various administrative departments which have rendered the organisation helpless. With more than 382 court cases on these lands, civic agencies have allowed katchi abadis and encroachments to thrive on PR property for years. Residents have made permanent structures – and PR officials say that without the help of law enforcement agencies the property cannot be cleared.
“Besides the illegal settlements, we are also facing constant trouble from provincial governments, who demand a share when revenue is generated through these lands, once cleared,” claims Razi, adding that the dispute between the federal and provincial governments over PR land revenue collection had been going on for 15 years and was currently being heard at the Council of Common Interests.
The losses to PR have not only affected railway operations but have also led to the delay in salaries and pensions of employees. “I had to wait for two months before getting my 13,000 rupees pension,” says Anwar Bhatti, the breadwinner for a family of five.
Corruption or mismanagement?
PR officials have said that the shortage of funds has been the biggest obstacle in reviving the organisation. However, Minister for Railways Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has openly accepted that there is corruption in PR.
“I don’t say that there is no corruption in my ministry but the question is which ministry has no corruption,” Bilour said in October 2010 on the floor of the National Assembly.
Furthermore, corruption is not limited to those in senior positions. Low-level corruption is hurting Pakistan Railways as well – for example, at least 50% of losses are caused by ticket-less travel.
“I boarded the train near Rawalpindi after a ticket teller told me he could provide me a ticket,” says Iftikhar, a frequent passenger of the railway network. “But instead of giving me a ticket at the beginning of the journey, he handed me a ticket at the end of the journey of a shorter route,” Iftikhar claims, adding that he paid Rs130 for a ticket worth Rs25. “The teller applied that method with every one of us who boarded the train from my village.”
While many passengers prefer to buy their tickets at the last minute, a trip to the reservation desk showed that a majority of seats had been booked in advance, with a two-week wait for some trains.
But who buys these tickets? Some passengers travelling from Karachi revealed that they bought tickets from a friend who was selling tickets on the black market for Rs4,000 each, showing a ticket worth Rs3,500.
The passengers claimed that the even though they were in the wrong for buying tickets on the black market, the ticket teller went even further than them as he wanted to seat additional people in their cabin without tickets. Once the unwanted passengers were settled in their cabin they revealed that the ticket teller had been paid for accommodating them into first class while they held economy class tickets.
Ticket tellers have in essence found their own mechanism to generate revenue for themselves. All passengers are taken aboard as long as they receive their cut. People are even stacked in the power generation bogey for cheap tickets.
A passenger exiting one of these bogeys at Lahore Railway station said he had paid Rs1,000 for a trip from Karachi to Lahore. “They told us that we will get seats but I had to stand the whole time after a while I got tired and lay down in the corridor,” says the passenger, showing a handwritten note of the amount he paid.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2011.