The Lok Sabha on Thursday discussed till 11.58 pm the demand for grants to the Ministry of Railways, PTI reported. Almost 100 members participated in the debate, which started in the afternoon. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal is expected to reply to the debate on Friday afternoon, after which the demand for grants will be put to vote.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi claimed it was the first time in almost 18 years that the Lower House had discussed a matter for this long. “It is a record,” he said.

During the debate, the Opposition accused the Narendra Modi government of attempting to sell off Indian Railways’ assets instead of focusing on services. Leader of the Congress in the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would “one day sell the country” just as the aviation minister wanted to sell Air India and Goyal wanted to sell the railways’ assets, DNA reported. Chowdhury claimed the Modi government had consistently failed to meet its targets since coming to power in 2014, and mocked it for saying Rs 50 lakh crore would be invested in the coming years.

He accused the government of wanting to privatise production units of railways, including the one in Rae Bareli, which is the Lok Sabha constituency of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi. Last week, Goyal had responded to the Congress’ criticism on the matter, alleging that the Opposition party had failed to operationalise the Rae Bareli factory when it was in power.

Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule asked the government to assure the House that railways would not be privatised. She took a dig at the government for the delay in the bullet train project, saying that like the BJP’s 2014 election slogan of “achche din [good days]”, the project might also remain unfulfilled.

Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay said bullet trains were not viable in India and alleged the project was a hoax. “It is a hoax and a false promise,” DNA quoted him as saying. “It is bogus on Indian soil.” Bandyopadhyay asked the government to look at the state of railway bridges that are more than 100 years old. He added that there was a vacancy for gangmen and a shortage of railway drivers.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Kanimozhi said Railways still employs manual scavengers, and said “it is a shame for the nation”. She said signboards on railway stations were in Hindi, and demanded that regional languages be added as well.

However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party replied that the ministry was breaking new ground everyday, especially in areas such as infrastructure and safety. BJP MP Sunil Kumar Singh said accidents had reduced 73% since 2014. He said capital expenditure had more than doubled to Rs 4.97 lakh crore between 2014 and 2019, compared to Rs 2.3 lakh crore in 2009-’14.

Rajan Vichare of the Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (United) leader Dileshwar Kamait, Biju Janata Dal’s C Sahoo, and Fazlur Rahman of the Bahujan Samaj Party also participated in the discussion.

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