A plan to allocate the debt left behind by the former Japanese National Railways among the seven JR group companies received backing by economic experts during a Lower House committee meeting Wednesday.

The special committee is debating a government-sponsored bill designed to dispose of the 27.8 trillion yen in debt produced from JNR’s nationalization in 1987, as well as other related bills.

Under the proposed repayment scheme, the seven JR group companies will be required to shoulder 360 billion yen of 4.3 trillion yen in pension-related costs.

Hiroshi Kato, president of the Chiba University of Commerce, supported the repayment scheme, calling it an “appropriate” conclusion. However, Kato noted that the seven firms’ consent on the burden-sharing plan is needed. “Consent by the JR firms is a precondition. A problem lies in the fact that the JR firms are privatized, but not completely privatized. Not all of their stock has been released (by the government) yet,” Kato said.

The JR firms should shoulder the burden because it is common for a new company created after a firm goes into bankruptcy to take responsibility for employee pensions, said Masanobu Kato, a professor at Nagoya University.

In contrast, Setsu Kobayashi, a professor at Keio University, said he opposed the burden-sharing plan because it is problematic from the standpoint of the Constitution, which protects property rights.

Kobayashi said that if Japan adopts a policy that forces JR firms to bear an unreasonable burden, the decision may generate distrust of Japan in foreign countries.

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