Suresh Prabhu is certainly not populist but he is pragmatic in his entire approach and it was evident when he presented his maiden Railway budget.
He took a very serious approach to bring about 360 degree change in management practices and better passenger experience. He boldly took wrath by not announcing any new trains nor did he plan to lay new railway lines but, announced high speed corridors and faster trains to drastically reduce intercity travel time. He proposed passenger-friendly proposals like quick ticketing, lower berth quota and bio toilets, definitely good initiatives for common travellers. One of the major announcements of 5-minute ticket for passengers without reservation would be a major hit. Prominent step taken by him for youth is to cover 400 stations WiFi. Prabhu has unveiled what he called “four goals, five drivers and 11 thrust areas” to end the “vicious cycle” of underinvestment in Indian Railways. The railways short-term aim would be to deliver its best financial performance in last one decade.
He seems to be committed on his four major goals:
- Sustainable improvement in customer experience.
- Making railways a safer means of travel.
- Expansion of capacity and modernising rail infra.
- Attaining financial sustainability by creating large surpluses for capacity expansion and replace depreciating assets.
The new reforms will help railways increase its rail network to 1.38 lakh kilometers and freight traffic from 1 billion tonnes to 1.5 billion tonnes, Mr Prabhu said. However due to high freight tariff there has been decline in freight traffic over last few years and may pose some radical changes here.
His innovative mind-set was reflected when he put forth the five key drivers, which include:
- A five-year action plan to transform railways.
- Partnerships with states, PSUs, multilateral agencies and private sector for ensuring financing and last mile connectivity.
- Raising of Rs. 8.50 lakh crore over five years.
- Revamping of management practices.
- Setting standards of governance and transparency.
Mr Prabhu’s appointment as Railway Minister last November triggered hopes of radical change in a ministry long regarded as a populist gravy train. Few months in office, he has made some out-of-the-box decisions, reported in different sections of the media:
- The World Bank was asked to make a presentation to the ministry, outlining the experience of other countries in transforming their railway systems.
- He has introduced technology, including a mobile application for ensuring the safety and security of women passengers in Mumbai suburban trains.
- He has also identified seven key ideas to increase the poor passenger security record of the railways. One is called “”Mahila Vahini”, a specially-trained female force to check crimes against women in railway premises and trains.
- A team is working on a mechanism for immediate evacuation and shifting of injured persons to hospitals so as to save precious time and human lives. The recent spate of accidents on trains, including fire in coaches and derailments, highlight the need for speedy action in the aftermath of an incident.
- He has planned his priorities to improve passenger services, installing chemical toilets, cleanliness of trains and stations, and better quality of food, including by private caterers, the latest being Domino pizzas.
- He has formulated a six-member task force to generate advertising revenue by leveraging spaces in coaches, wagons, trains and railway stations.
Mr Prabhu, a Chartered Accountant, has pursued two doctorates simultaneously, one on Public Finance from Mumbai University and the other from Berlin University on Climate Change.
According to me this is an ideal & dream budget, which speaks for innovation in Railways providing complete new outlook. But there are lot of challenges to implement these idealistic practices and I hope Prabhu, otherwise quiet person, will accomplish what he said.
We must feel proud that:
- Indian Railway is world’s third largest railways network.
- The full track length of Indian Railways can easily circle the equator one and a half times.
- The Indian Railways cover a large distance equals to three and a half times the distance to the moon.
- Indian Railways is the 9th largest employer in the world. Providing jobs for 1.3 million people, the railway is India’s largest single employer.
- It carries more than 25 million passengers each day.
- We might complain about IRCTC website taking a long time to open, but the interesting fact is that the website gets close to 12 Lakh hits per minute.
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