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In PM’s hometown: Woes of the railway and its workers

January 18, 2013

A cyclist crosses railway tracks as fog envelopes the area, Jan 21, 2010. — Photo by AP/File

RAWALPINDI, Jan 17: State-owned Pakistan Railway has been telling its 100 employees retired last June that it has no money to pay them the General Provident Fund — to which they had contributed.

But how can they believe that when they see their ‘fund-starved’ employer spending Rs20 million on the face-lifting of the railway station Gujar Khan, the hometown of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.

A senior railway official told Dawn that the prime minister desired the station improved and provided Rs7.5 million from his development fund for the project.

That amount would go into building the approach road to the station, sinking of a tubewell in the railway staff colony of Gujar Khan city, and laying a high pressure gas pipeline to the colony.

But the Pakistan Railway has found Rs20 million in its ‘empty kitty’ to improve and beautify the railway station proper.

According to the official, the railway would raise the platform from the present 1.5 feet to 2.9 feet, refurbish one a waiting hall for ordinary passengers and construct two waiting rooms for VIPs. The reservation office of the station would be computerised.

It is to be noted that the Gujar Khan station is not earning much revenue to the railway. Its monthly earning is Rs700,000. In comparison, the Jhelum and Sargodha railway stations in the Rawalpindi Division earn Rs4 million and Rs6 million monthly and are worse shape.

They did not have even whitewash for the last seven years.

There is another comparison. The 100 retired railway employees of Rawalpindi division have been shuttling between the railway establishment at Lahore and Islamabad for their Rs120 million General Provident Fund for the last seven months only to be turned away with the ruse of ‘no funds'.

“I contacted Pakistan Railway head office in Lahore and Ministry of Railways in Islamabad for my contributory fund but failed,” said retired employee Mohammad Arshad who has to marry off his daughter in March.

“Pakistan Railway suffers a loss of Rs35 million every day. The Rs27 million it earns in a day across the country is all spent on the diesel that runs the system,” said a senior railway accounts officer from Lahore.

It is not just the retirement dues that the railway is unable to pay. “The PR had no money to pay the seven per cent increase in the wages announced by the federal government during fiscal 2011-12,” he said.

Pakistan Railway Employees Union President Ishtiaq Asi told Dawn that the railway employees were “suffering while the bureaucracy was busy pleasing their bosses”.

He said five trains serving different routes had been privatised but the employees were not provided even their due rights. “In some railway divisions, the seven per cent increase was honoured but the employees of the Rawalpindi employees were ignored,” he said.