ISLAMABAD: Taking exception to financial losses incurred by the railways, a Supreme Court bench headed by the chief justice of Pakistan on Monday observed that no department in the country was more corrupt than Pakistan Railways.
The bench comprising CJP Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah summoned federal Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, railways secretary and chief operating officer of Pakistan Railways to appear before the court on Tuesday (today) in a case pertaining to the losses incurred by the organisation.
Without naming anyone, the chief justice noted that the person overseeing the affairs of the department was unable to manage the ministry properly and that the entire railways had been politicised. He regretted that every railway passenger was putting his life in danger as the railway stations, tracks and several signals were not in order.
CJP-led bench summons minister, top officers of Pakistan Railways to explain losses, falling standards
The chief justice also inquired about the October 2019 fire that had engulfed a train in which 73 passengers were killed when apparently a gas cylinder brought by one of the travellers had exploded. When the bench was informed that ‘appropriate action’ had been taken against two individuals following an inquiry into the incident, the court termed the reply unsatisfactory and summoned the chief operating officer of the department on Tuesday to explain his position.
The chief justice regretted that the entire record of the railways was maintained manually when it should have been computerised. “There is no department in Pakistan more corrupt than Pakistan Railways,” the CJP observed, while regretting that at a time when the world had moved at an advanced stage after operating bullet trains, the ministry was still running the 18th century railways.
The case relating to the colossal losses sustained by the railways during the past five years was initiated by former chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar.
At a previous hearing, a report furnished by the A.F. Ferguson and Co, which was appointed as financial auditors for the scrutiny of the accounts of the department, had claimed that the Pakistan Railways was a public utility service and not necessarily a revenue arm of the state. While the organisation should be self-sustaining as much as possible, the years of neglect, improper planning and misplaced priorities were responsible for its sorry state of affairs, it maintained.
The auditors’ report, however, mentioned that Pakistan Railways had improved remarkably between 2013 and 2018 when its revenue had surged from Rs18 billion to Rs40 billion, whereas the freight revenue increased from Rs1 billion in 2012-13 to Rs12.4 billion in 2016-17.
It was admitted before the SC at a previous hearing that PR was grossly overstaffed, its salary bill was on the rise on account of government policies along with failure of the organisation to generate enough profits.
In one of his orders, ex-CJP Nisar had observed that the affairs of the Pakistan Railways were not in order, which was evident from its falling standard but also the huge amount of subsidies that the organisation needed consistently, which then stood at Rs60bn. The court noted that the auditor general report had also found irregularities and shortcomings in the financial affairs of the railways, raising serious questions about its financial discipline.
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2020