SC tells Railways to improve efficiencyArchive
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court came down hard on the Pakistan Railways (PR) on Monday, observing that the entity should improve its efficiency instead of focusing on “fanciful ideas”.
The observation came after Railways Secretary Zafar Ranjha told a three-judge SC bench that his department was pursuing a $9.8 billion project to link Pakistan with Uzbekistan through Afghanistan.
“The Railways has billions of dollars worth of infrastructure and assets of its own, but its performance is poor,” Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial observed after the apex court took up a request to review its June 14, 2021, order which had barred the PR from leasing out its land.
The 2021 order had amended the court’s previous decision of Jan 4, 2019, to allow the organisation to lease out its land for up to five years.
Department told to shun ‘fanciful ideas’
Additional Attorney General Chaudhry Aamir Rehman had requested the court to reconsider its June 2021 order.
The CJP said people were suffering due to heavy borrowing by the Railways. “We are not impressed with your schemes worth billions of dollars,” observed Chief Justice Bandial, who travelled to Balochistan by train recently.
“The railway is thriving in our neighbouring country even though we inherited a similar infrastructure. The biggest problem with Pakistan Railways is overstaffing.
“The department does not have enough money to pay for pension. It should function like a commercial entity,” the CJP observed, citing a recent article by The Economist magazine about Pakistan’s roads under the headline: “Roads to nowhere”.
Justice Bandial recalled that during his train journey, he saw vast swathes of encroached lands which were owned by the Railways. “When you leave your lands open without utilising it, the public will take it over. Even water is still standing on Railways land in Sindh and Balochistan.”
Justice Ijazul Ahsan wondered what the railway was generating since the federal government was spending Rs40 billion every year for payment of pension to retired PR employees. The secretary said Railways had generated Rs62bn against a target of Rs58bn, but conceded that the department was at breakeven now due to the prohibitive pension bill.
“How the economy will work when organisations like PR, the Pakistan International Airlines and the Pakistan Steel Mills are getting heavy bailouts every year,” said Justice Ahsan.
The CJP regretted that at certain points in Balochistan, trains travel at the speed of a human walk because the floods have weakened the tracks.
The CJP suggested the Railways to build sink wells so that the water standing on its tracks receded.
“This is your asset. Don’t throw it just like that,” Chief Justice Bandial observed, adding that “trains don’t need supersonic locomotives”.
In reply to a question about connecting Gwadar with the Main Line One project, the secretary said the PR had identified 46,000 acres of land to link Gwadar with Quetta. Sharing his recent experience, the CJP said he saw living quarters just 15 feet away from the tracks and people sitting on the rails.
Chief Justice Bandial recalled a recent accident in which a rickshaw carrying two passengers smashed into a train on the Lahore-Khanewal circuit. On inquiry it was found that there was no act of terrorism but foolishness because the section was not protected. In China, trains travel at a speed of 300km, but such incidents never occur there, he said.
The case will be taken up again after two weeks.
Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2023