During a meeting held at Dewalegama, Kegalle on January 29, Duminda Nagamuwa, the Frontline Socialist Party’s (FSP) Propaganda Secretary, said that the Railway Department and Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) can profit from abolishing train and bus season tickets for schoolchildren and civil servants.
He proposed doing away with the railway season ticket scheme and raising the railway ticket charge to the same level as the bus fare to return the Railway Department to profitability as quickly as possible.
“Today, some people say that all this should be sold, and that it is okay to sell it.
“The Railway department is making losses these days. The revenue of the Department is Rs. 11 billion, while the cost is Rs. 40 billion.
By abolishing the season tickets given to schoolchildren and Government employees and bringing the price of the train ticket to the price of the bus ticket, the Railway Department can make a profit.
If the season tickets were abolished, the SLTB can also start making profits. The day there is a train strike, season holders say that the Sri Lanka Railways (SLR) should be privatised.
The way train strikes are done is not good. That is a different story. But people on season tickets say that it should be sold while travelling on the train itself”.
Several academics and social activists expressed their views on this statement made by Nagamuwa.
Such statements from those who claim to establish a just State raises doubts
-Ven. Yalata Pannaseeha Thera, President of the All Ceylon United Teachers Association
Welfare is a crucial aspect of state governance, with parallels found in Buddhist philosophy, such as in the Dasaraja Dharma, emphasising the King’s provision for the people. Regardless of philosophical or political origins, it is imperative for a State to ensure the well-being of its citizens.
A practical manifestation of this commitment is the provision of subsidised train and bus season tickets for school and university students, facilitating easy access to education. Government employees benefit from reasonably priced season train tickets, underscoring the importance of welfare in State policies.
This approach not only eases the financial burden on students but also addresses transportation challenges, promoting continued education and preventing social exclusion. The provision of such essential services exemplifies a state’s dedication to fostering a supportive environment.
If Public Servants face transportation challenges leading to late arrivals or absences, it can disrupt the functioning of public services. When individuals or organisations advocate for a just State in the future while opposing current public welfare measures, we doubt their true intentions. Questions arise about whether there might be hidden agendas beneath their stated goals.
School and university students need this welfare facility
Dilshan Withana, Fourth Year – Faculty of Engineering, University of Sri Jayewardenepura
There seems to be a significant misconception if one believes that the SLTB and the Railway Department can generate profits by either cancelling or restricting train and bus season tickets for schoolchildren, university students, and Government employees.
While it is true that a portion of school students use season tickets for bus and train travel (around 80-90 percent), the argument that stopping this privilege will lead to substantial profits is inaccurate. Only a small percentage of schoolchildren actually use season tickets. My view is that maintaining such welfare measures is essential. The institutions involved would not incur significant losses by providing these facilities, and discontinuing them would not result in substantial profits. It is crucial to continue offering this welfare facility to school students, university students, and Government employees.
It is regrettable to propose cuts on public welfare facilities
Science educationist Dr. Gananath Weeraratne
It is disheartening to hear a leader from a Leftist party making such a statement. I suggest Nagamuwa to visit depots across Sri Lanka. Selling abandoned buses for scrap metal alone could generate substantial revenue. We are well aware of how crucial season tickets are for schoolchildren, especially when bus fares have risen. The majority of bus and train commuters are not from affluent backgrounds. It is often children from less privileged families, who, despite facing financial constraints, travel to popular schools after excelling in their scholarship exams and GCE O/Ls.
Public servants are grappling with the high Cost Of Living (COL), with their meagre salaries stretched thin to cover escalating expenses like groceries, mortgage payments, and their children’s education. Season tickets provide a modest relief in transportation costs. It is disheartening to hear a socialist suggest cutting such a fundamental welfare facility for public servants and schoolchildren. If there is a desire to boost profits, there are numerous wasteful practices in depots that could be addressed instead.
From the frying pan into the fire
A. Priyanthika, Accounts Assistant, Inland Revenue Department
The invaluable support offered to Government employees like us through the railway season ticket is immeasurable. In the face of numerous monthly expenses on a limited salary, having access to bus and train season tickets is a significant relief for those who cannot bear the burden of daily travel expenses. Whenever fuel prices surge and bus fares go up, relying on bus and train season tickets becomes crucial. It is disheartening to hear politicians suggest eliminating this essential facility, affecting innocent people, all in the pursuit of profit for the SLTB and SLR.
Cancelling season subsidy is a crime
A. M. Mudaligama, Principal, Imbulgoda Rajasinghe National School
The majority of bus season users in this country are not children of rich parents. About 90 percent of the students who go to school on bus and train season tickets are children of poor parents. If that facility is taken away, their school journey will come to a standstill.
It will disrupt their education. Also, the facility of train and bus season tickets for Government employees is a big strength with the current economic situation. If they lose it, they will be in big trouble. Therefore, if anyone tries to cancel or restrict this facility, which is a great benefit to schoolchildren and Government employees, it is truly a national crime. I feel that it is a crime to even think of eliminating such welfare activities on the basis of such narrow profit objectives.
We propose to increase the relief
Chandana Suriyaarachchi, Coordinator of State and Provincial Public Service Unions
There is a pressing need to expand the season ticket facility. The ongoing economic crisis has left many parents unable to afford increased bus fares, resulting in some children being unable to attend school. This financial constraint is a significant hindrance to children’s education. Moreover, after covering monthly bills and loan instalments from their salaries, Government employees find it challenging to set aside funds for daily commuting costs. The availability of reasonably priced season tickets has proven to be a substantial relief for Government employees in such a situation.
Most university students have also benefited from this convenience. Proposing any reduction or limitation to the train and bus season ticket facility, which has provided some comfort amidst the economic crisis, should be seen as an action against the well-being of the people. Therefore, at this juncture, the recommendation is not to decrease or eliminate these concessions but rather to enhance and expand them.
Translated by Jonathan Frank