Nehru's Word: Praise for the Indian Railways

Here are extracts from a speech of Pt Nehru on the occasion of reorganisation of the Railway network in North India. Nehru praises the Railways as an example of the success story of state enterprises

Nehru's Word: Praise for the Indian Railways
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Mridula Mukherjee

We are witnessing today an unholy race to privatise or monetise our national assets: airlines, airports, railways, banks, highways…the list keeps growing. In this context, we bring to our readers this week extracts from a speech of Jawaharlal Nehru on the occasion of the reorganisation of the Railway network in North India. Nehru praises the Railways as an example of the success story of state enterprises, and urges that more and more public utilities and basic industries need to be added to the state sector. He also points out that it is not only the officers, but the around one million men who work in the railways, who deserve the credit for this success. He is all praise for the new facilities at Chittaranjan which are to be enjoyed jointly by the officers and workers, and the provision of proper housing for the workers, in contrast with Kharagpur, where he was very critical of the poor conditions on which workers lived.

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“I gladly accepted the invitation to be present on this occasion not merely because of its importance, but, if I may say so, much more so, because I wished to pay my tribute to the Indian Railways. I remember five years ago or about that time when the question of the then state of the Indian Railways came up repeatedly before us, in the Government, in our Cabinet meetings, it was a woeful state.

After the War, with our resources depleted, with all kinds of rolling stock and railway lines sent to Mesopotamia and distant parts of the world, with no replenishments, no renewals, and with a terrific traffic, it was in fact a painful experience, not only to travel but to see other people travelling….

Now, that was a state of affairs about five years ago. Soon after that or some months after that came the Partition, and that involved a break-up, a sudden overnight break-up of the railway system in the north and north-eastern parts of India. That was a big blow…. Immediately in the wake of Partition came huge migrations. Those millions and millions of refugees, either coming from Pakistan to India or going from India to Pakistan, was an unprecedented thing….

Trains, not merely full inside but overcrowded on the roofs, on foot-boards, everywhere, filled with suffering humanity. It was an awful scene…. And yet we survived, and the railways survived…. Indian Railways not only overcame those problems and difficulties but built themselves anew and we may say that they are functioning now with a good deal of efficiency and punctuality….You can well presume the enormous amount of hard work and cooperation that must have gone into bringing the railways to their present level. I think we, as a people and as a Government, have every reason to be proud of this work and to congratulate all those connected with our railways on what they have done….

“In these days of argument about State undertakings and the like — when some people cast doubt on the efficiency of State enterprises and think that the State is some kind of an outsider which encroaches on the preserves of the private individual — it is well to remember the success of this magnificent example of State enterprise in India”

But when we talk of the railways of India, it is not enough just to talk of the work of a few high placed officers, but rather of nearly a million men engaged, night and day, who are ceaselessly performing their duties in various places…. Therefore, I should like to pay my tribute and I should like to congratulate all those railway workers, of all grades wherever they may be, for this great example of efficient cooperation and working. I think that we have reason to be proud of our railways.

In many ways I believe the railways are our greatest national asset. They are a State undertaking, run by the State, controlled by the State, wholly managed through the officers of the State, although, naturally, they form a separate department of the State.

Now, in these days of argument about State undertakings and the like — when some people cast doubt on the efficiency of State enterprises and think that the State is some kind of an outsider which encroaches on the preserves of the private individual — it is well to remember the success of this magnificent example of State enterprise in India, which is not only a success in itself, but I hope it is an example to others, and I hope that the success of this State enterprise will induce us, the State and the people of India, to enlarge the scope of State enterprises in all public utilities, more especially in all basic industries, and gradually further still. Because I believe that the human being functions not merely by the incentive of private profit, but he can be moved to perform good work by other incentives also….

The other day, a few weeks ago, I visited Chittaranjan (March 1, 1952) where a locomotive factory had been put up. And I saw not only the locomotive works there, but the little town that has grown up all around it. And it became a symbol to me of, what shall I say, development and progress in general. It was a fine symbol; not only was it an up-to-date factory, but what interested me much more was the fact that the human aspect of the problem had been carefully considered, that the houses for workers had been built with care.

Nehru's Word: Praise for the Indian Railways

They were good little houses, and they were cheap, insofar as rentals went. Another thing that pleased me was that the institutes for work as well as recreation, such as they were, were common to the officers and the members of the staff. The class barriers, unfortunately so much in evidence in almost every phase of our life in India, were also not there.

…We have to remember that the men and women who use the railways, the vast number of them, are third class passengers. And all our schemes should ultimately revolve round the comfort to that mass of human beings that travel in the third class of the railways of India….

Now, may I say in this connection that after I went to Chittaranjan, I visited, for another purpose, Kharagpur, which is an important railway centre. Seeing the housing conditions of railwaymen there, I was filled with no enthusiasm. I thought they were horrid, and that sight still haunts me….I am quite clear in my mind that it is better for people to live in the open than to live in those slums. And I am also quite clear that no country can, for long, say that we are very sorry, we mean well, but we have no money to do this. There are certain factors which affect the self-respect of the human being. We cannot, at peril to ourselves, forget them.”

[Speech at the inauguration of the Northern Railway, the North-Eastern Railway and the Eastern Railway, New Delhi, 14 April 1952]

(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library).

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