A series of three reports published in Prothom Alo on Bangladesh Railway has depicted the dire straits the state-run organisation is facing. The government failed to decrease the losses of the railway despite outlaying Tk 750 billion. The railway incurred operational losses of around Tk 20 billion in the last fiscal. Corruption in project implementation and procurement, undertaking of unplanned projects and management failures are the reasons for the losses of the railway despite heavy investment.
The railway should have focused on profit making by curbing corruption and improving services. It should have taken effective steps to transport more passengers by expanding the railway line. But the authorities, without giving attention to these alternatives, are daydreaming about self-reliance by leasing out its valuable lands. Among the 15 projects which got approval or are awaiting approval, 13 are of minor works sector including constructing a five-star hotel, hospital and shopping mall.
Enhancing passenger and goods transportation services is the main responsibility of railways. Only two projects have been taken to this end —constructing circular railway links around Dhaka and an Inland Container Depot (ICD) near Dhirasram railway station in Gazipur. A project was undertaken in 2018 to construct a multimodal hub centering Dhaka railway station at Kamalapur and airport railway station. A hotel and commercial complex were supposed to be constructed under the project. We welcome the decision to take any project to increase passenger service and infrastructure development. But it is unlikely that they will profit much by leasing out lands. Valuable lands of the railway have caught the attention of many. A detailed survey should be done on how to maximize use of lands located at the heart of big cities such as Dhaka and Chattogram. According to the Prothom Alo reports, the development projects have been taken without any such survey. What will happen if any entrepreneur wants to usurp the land in the name of any project?
Railway minister Nurul Islam said that 70 per cent of the cost of the development projects will come from the government while remaining 30 per cent will come from Public Private Partnership (PPP). Investment in passenger service and infrastructure development will be further curtailed if the railway spends from their own budget. As a result, the loss would increase. Revenue from the PPP system would be a minor portion of the total budget. Moreover, vested quarters might try to use these projects. Business is not their main concern, but the land is.
It is hard to believe that the railway authorities, which cannot even operate their own hospital, can make profit from hospital and hotel business. The railway authorities are driven by profit making tendencies. The authorities should keep in mind that they can make more profits by increasing the quality of services than the PPP projects. The countries which have self-reliant railway authorities have done so by increasing their services. Why cannot we replicate their success?