Daily Briefs

Photo : Dawn

Railways, the most corrupt department in Pakistan: Chief Justice of Pakistan

PR Daily Brief | D. Suba Chandran

28 January 2020, Tuesday 

What happened?
"There is no department in Pakistan more corrupt than Pakistan Railways" observed Justice Gulzar Ahmed, the Chief Justice of Pakistan while addressing a case related to the losses incurred by the Pakistan Railways (Dawn, 28 January 2020). 

He made the observation as a part of a three members bench including Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, after summoning the federal Railways Minister (Sheikh Rashid Ahmed), Secretary Railways secretary and its Chief Operating Officer.

Besides the losses, the SC bench discussed the following: the safety, and the level of modernization including computerization of records.

What is the background?
The Pakistan Railways has been at the receiving end during the recent years on many counts – chief amongst them are safety, operational capability, losses and politicization. A report published by the Dawn on 1 January 2020 considered 2019 as the worst for the Pakistan Railways, with numerous accidents. (Dawn, 1 January 2020)

In October 2019, the PR witnessed one of the worst tragedies in Rahim Yar Khan district in Punjab, when the Tezgam passenger train caught fire on the route from Karachi to Rawalpindi. The accident that killed more than 100 people was considered the worst in Pakistan's history since 2005. An explosion of gas stoves was cited as the cause for the accident, leading to everyone questioning the practice of allowing the use of gas stoves in train journeys by the passengers. The safety standard of the Pakistan Railways seems to be the primary problem.

According to reports, the train did not stop for 20 minutes after the fire, despite pulling the emergency cord. This brings the second problem – of maintenance. Multiple reports have questioned the maintenance record of the Pakistan Railways. The maintenance issue would cover the quality of locomotives, railway tracks, signals and more importantly, the slow pace of modernization.

The third major issue is profitability. Dawn's (28 January 2020) report referring to an AF Ferguson and Co report, underlined the improvement in revenue in the Pakistan Railways during 2013-18, but this is not sufficient, as the expenses are high, especially with the salary bill. 

The above would bring the fourth major issue – politicization of the Pakistan Railways. Subsequent governments used the PR as a source of employment and also ignored the encroachment of the property belonging to the government. Vast lands of the Pakistan Railways have been encroached by the individuals and the different departments of the State. 

There is a huge expectation that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Chinese investments would bring the Pakistan Railways back on track. With the focus more on constructing roads, the PR is losing its revenue to the development of huge road networks and the introduction of large trucks carrying goods.

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