New Delhi: The railway ministry’s decision to close all of its printing presses has run into a speed bump, with two major employee unions alleging that the move is paving the way for handing over prime land to private players for commercial exploitation.
Last year, minister Piyush Goyal announced that the railways would close down all of the printing presses it owns – as part of its strategy to exit activities that aren’t integral to its functioning – and retrench the displaced staff in other departments.
However, various railwaymen unions are now raising multiple concerns, one of them being that the chances of fraud and misuse of the ticketing system will increase if the ministry’s gets items printed in outside presses.
Currently, 14 printing presses fall under the jurisdiction of the railways. While there are six major presses at Mumbai, Kolkata, Secunderabad, and Delhi, eight small printing units are situated in other areas including Ajmer, Jaipur and Kurseong.
Located at prime land, the railway printing presses are involved in printing security items including printing of unreserved tickets and railway passes for suburban commuters which has money value.
There are about 20 lakh rail passes and unreserved tickets on the use per day for daily suburban rail service. If the printing is outsourced then there are chances of passes and tickets being printed in excess or fake where railways has no control, said National Federation of Indian Railwaymen general secretary M Raghavaiah.
He further said since all railway printing presses are in prime localities, it appears that these land can be given to private players for commercial development.
Strongly opposing the closure move, All-India Railwaymen’s Federation general secretary Shiv Gopal Mishra said the decision is not a wise one and it would not be beneficial for railways.
“At this juncture of time, sudden decision to close all the printing presses, including those which have been augmented and modernized would not only result in sheer wastage of substantial railway revenue as also pose unwarranted problem of staff redeployment. This may also result in dislocation of the staff and their families as well,” Mishra said.
Both the unions have met Goyal and urged upon him not to take any arbitrary decision without considering the pros and cons and far reaching consequences of closure of the railway printing presses.
The railway minister has agreed to look into the issue and get it examined again, Raghavaiah said after meeting Goyal.
However, according to a senior railway official involved in printing operation, the move is aimed at redirecting its resources to more integral schemes. He further said that with most public service undertakings in the country making the transition to digital services with increasingly less requirement of paper-based communication, the move accentuates the railways efforts in keeping up with time and technology.
Phasing out printing machinery that is not just old but outdated as well, all printing works will be carried forth only through tenders hereafter and the real estate of these units can be put to more productive use, he added.
According to the plan, the staff working at these units will be retained and redeployed with new training.
Arun Kumar Das is a senior journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected]