Pakistan Railways’ membership of international body may be suspended

Published September 24, 2021
Railways chairman says dues will be cleared soon to keep membership intact. — AFP/File
Railways chairman says dues will be cleared soon to keep membership intact. — AFP/File

LAHORE: The membership of Pakistan Railways (PR) of the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF) — under Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail (COTIF) — is likely to be suspended as the former has failed to pay its annual membership fee for two years.

The membership is mandatory for launch of the intercontinental rail train business under COTIF, a uniform railway law to connect Europe, Asia and Africa, Dawn has learnt.

PR has not paid annual OTIF-COTIF membership fee for two years (2020-21) on the pretext of financial crisis (due to Covid-19 and other reasons). Since this membership is necessary for launching international rail freight operations, the PR’s default in this regard is also among various reasons that delayed launch/resumption of the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad freight train, according to a source.

The PR should have paid the fee (about $90,000 per year), as this is not a huge amount for a huge department of nearly 80,000 employees and deals with billions of rupees annually, he added.

Railways chairman says dues will be cleared soon to keep membership intact

According to Bern (Switzerland)-based organisation (OTIF-COTIF), it aims at dealing with all aspects of international rail traffic with a view to promoting, improving and facilitating it. It is dedicated to international rail transport.

Active since 1893, it is the oldest international organisation in the sector. According to 2020 annual report, the OTIF-COTIF has a total of 51 member states and one regional economic integration organisation, which uses simple and effective tools to promote, improve and facilitate international carriage by rail by providing legal and technical interoperability for international carriage by rail.

If the PR’s membership is suspended due to non-payment of membership fee, it will not be easy to restore the same quickly. It is a matter of the country’s image, the source feared. PR chairman/federal secretary Dr Habibur Rehman Gilani said the Pakistan Railway would soon clear its dues to keep the OTIF-COTIF membership intact since it is very important for the international rail freight business.

He said the railways ministry had also written a letter to the OTIF-COTIF for not doing anything for the PR officers’ capacity building, their participation in the research or international events, etc.

“The reason behind non-payment of fee is the financial crisis that emerged due to Covid-19. But being a member, we have a right to ask them about the facilitation they have pledged to provide to the member states,” he said.

Talking to Dawn, PR Director General (Operations) Imran Hayat admitted that there might be issues pertaining to non-payment for past two years due to the economic crunch.

Pakistan Railways has operated no international train since 2010. The Covid-19 pandemic has also hit the revenues hard as the PR trains are being operated at 70pc capacity.

However, PR is poised to resume international traffic in the near future, he added.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2021

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