SC seeks proposals to make railways profitable

ISLAMABAD (APP): The Supreme Court on Monday sought a detailed report from Pakistan Railways regarding its land and future planning to make the institution profitable. Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial remarked that a railway station was the heart of any city and it should include a hotel, restaurant and shopping centre as the passengers also need to do shopping.
The CJP further remarked that in Pakistan, there were residential areas 50 feet away from the railway tracks. He observed that the railway tracks were not safe as two people died recently as a ‘rickshaw’ came in way of a train on the Khanewal-Lahore track. He said the motorways were safer than as they were fenced, adding that the railways had no clear plan regarding the lease of its land. Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan remarked that an attempt was made to construct a housing society on the railway’s land and it was saved due to interference from the top court. All process land leases should be transparent and should also be audited by the auditor general, he said.
The bench instructed the railways official to submit a detailed report which includes the proposals for the lease as well. Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail said that all railways’ quarters in Quetta had been sold out. Additional Attorney General Aamir Rehman adopted the stance that a Karachi bench had previously ordered that even a single inch of land couldn’t be leased out. He said the process of the golf club was stopped due to the decision.
The chief justice remarked that the top court couldn’t issue a license to railways for selling and leasing the lands. The bench would see it if the railways could prepare a complete business plan, he added. The CJP questioned why the railways were not taking permission from the federal government to work as a commercial institution. The department was currently facing a financial burden, he said, adding that it was overstaffed and pension was also a burden. CJ Umar Ata Bandial said the court wouldn’t impress with just talk of billions of rupees. The encroachment was increasing day by day around the railways’ tracks, he said, adding that it would a relief to the common man if the railways’ system was improved as it was the lifeline of the country. If a railways system was running successfully in the neighbouring country then why not here, the CJP questioned.
Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan remarked that the railways had leased out expensive lands for 100 years against only Rs 500 annually. A housing society had been built on railways land near the old Islamabad airport, he noted. Justice Ahsan said the railways had been given lands for operational purposes instead of commercial. He observed that the federal government was paying Rs 40 billion to railways for pensions.
The government was also paying PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills, he said. He further said that one reason for the problems was that the people used to get stay orders from civil courts. Secretary Ministry of Railways Muzafar Ranjha said there were three sources of railways’ income including passenger trains, freight trains and leased land.
The railways’ land was not being used, he said, adding that they wanted to make this land a source of income. To a query, he said that the railways had earned Rs 62 billion against the target of 58 billion rupees in last year. He, however, said that Pakistan Railways faced a loss of Rs 628 billion due to the flood. The department restored its tracks itself without the assistance of the government, he added.