Indian Railways finds its rhythm

Indian Railways finds its rhythm

By M.J. Akbar | 27 February, 2016
Our railways began to collapse when politicians turned this marvellous institution into a conduit for petty favours to constituents and constituencies.

Governments tend to have an institutional approach to bad news. The first hope is that the problem will resolve itself if we ignore it long enough. The second is what might be called the long ball solution: kick the problem forward and keep doing so until it becomes some other minister’s problem.

That surely is the only explanation for the manner in which successive governments have driven one great inheritance from the British Raj into decay: Indian Railways. It is perfectly true that the British created the railways for their strategic and trade interests. But in the process they laid out a nationwide infrastructure and set up a management system that became the life-flow of independent India, a magnificent transport network serving the people, nourishing the economy and creating the linkages that gave real meaning to the concept of unity.

A democracy is driven by popular will. Indian Railways in a free country went where citizens wanted to travel. For five decades, until the air was released from bondage to one airline, railways offered journeys of discovery as it introduced people from every corner, with different languages and cultures, to one another. It was also the pulse of the economy: a steel mill no longer had to be near iron ore. It transported food at a time when patches of our nation were still mired in outbreaks of seasonal starvation. It is sometimes said, not entirely in jest, that Bollywood has done more for Indian unity than any government. While no one should underestimate the force of mass media, our railways have done more with trains that puffed and steamed through the 1950s and 1960s and then powered through the succeeding decades.

The decline began when popular began to surrender to populism in government. I shall name no names since we tend to offer more disrespect to some of the dead than they probably deserve, but our railways began to collapse when politicians turned this marvellous, almost romantic institution into a conduit for petty favours to constituents and constituencies. Hiring became a grace-and-favour benediction. Instead of serving the people, railways began to serve the politicians.

The challenge before Suresh Prabhu was very obvious: he was required not only to stop the decay but to reverse the rot. He took the helm when deterioration was sliding towards disintegration. He had to improve his product, and do it at a pace which was unprecedented, across coach, bogey, train, tracks, service quality, systems and stations. There was a problem wherever you looked.

The day of a railway budget, once an important event in Parliament’s calendar, drifted into self-mockery. Ministers made optimum use of a sham formula. While the railways slipped into terminal illness, they set up an aspirin stall as medicine, hoping that if they could disguise the pain no one would notice the malady. This was accompanied by a display of Diwali firecrackers in the shape of promises, mostly illusory. It was all a bit of a Barmecide’s feast, with citizens invited to a pretend banquet where nothing was served but everyone smacked their lips and burped. It would be unfair to call every minister a Barmecide, but many were. Two names on the positive side of the ledger also come to mind: Madhavrao Scindia, who brought a fair understanding to the single railway budget he presented; and Dinesh Trivedi, who tried but could do very little since his hand were tied quite sharply.

The challenge before Suresh Prabhu was very obvious: he was required not only to stop the decay but to reverse the rot. He took the helm when deterioration was sliding towards disintegration. He had to improve his product, and do it at a pace which was unprecedented, across coach, bogey, train, tracks, service quality, systems and stations. There was a problem wherever you looked. There is little point now recalling the horror stories of the UPA regime; people elect governments to solve problems, not to moan about the past. If the previous government was not awful why would they have changed it? Even Prabhu’s worst critics will admit that quality of service and environment is on the upswing. A critical measure of his success will be the transformation of 400 railway stations into small economic hubs across hundreds of towns.

The more difficult challenge is transformation through fresh investment and induction of world class trains on high density routes. Those who think that a high speed train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is unfair or elitist should remember that when electrification began, it did not begin everywhere all at once. The railways are a huge enterprise, and investments will have to be massive. They will need to be sourced largely from abroad; Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done the spadework with nations like Japan, but there is much heavy lifting to be done till a train starts moving.

The point of course is that at long last Indian Railways is moving in the right direction: fast forward, rather than very fast backward.


There are 9 Comments

Suresh Prabhu is doing a lot of good things but he shied away from raising passenger fares. Fares should have some connection to inflation in general. So that the common public does not consider the fare rise unfair, I suggest that in addition to listing the fare in Rupees, they should also be listed in units of a cup of tea or coffee. So, a 2nd class ticket from Kanpur to Delhi could be 40 cups of tea. That way, when the price of a cup of tea goes up, the fare will also rise accordingly. With the rise in revenue, Railways will have resources to improve and expand services. Just an example: In the last 40 years that I can remember, the timetable for the Howrah Mumbai mail has not changed at all. So, no increase in speed in the last 40 years!

As usual Mr.MJA is one of the very few journalists who continue writing using simple easy to grasp words, avoiding bombastic words warranting consultation with a dictionary often enough. May his tribe increase in our country. He has rightly said Railways condition started deteriorating when some politicians started making it a medium for petty favours to constituents & constituencies. An exception no doubt was Mr.Dinesh Trivedi. Another exception now w/o doubt is current Rly Minister Mr.S.Prabhu. He is trying his best to make multi-dimensional improvements in various ways incldg.through twitter conduits. Hope his obvious message on new customer-friendly working culture goes down the line also in Railways.incldg.their PRS Booking Offices . However the Railway Minister has also unfortunately shied away from taking a few major bold decisions Some examples: (1). Postponing by two years addl.heavy financial burden of about Rs.28000 crores on a/c of 7PC based enhanced salaries, allowances, pensions payments etc.for 14 lakh serving Rly employees and 12 lakh Rly pensioners. Rather he seems to be very enthu on its early payments. Why? They already get decent substantial monthly salaries/allowances/pensions etc as per 6th PC wage awards which they managed to get through blackmailing Rly strike threats. The various staff benefit a/c expenses alone consume about 60% of Railways total expenses. now.already. (2). Generating approx.Rs.10,000 addl.revenues for Railways by curtailing extra-generous LTC benefits (Rly Passes) to just one LTC each per year for 14lakh Rly employees, as against 6 to 9 LTCs each annually going on for years. . This will release several million addl.sleeper berths in various classes.for paying public and so will generate huge addl.Rly revenues. Likewise PTOs facility for them also need to be reduced to one annually as against 6 PTOs at present. Millions of employees of other PSUs, govt.depts/institutions etc.COMPELLED to accept ONLY ONE LTC ONCE IN TWO YEARS only.(3) Rly pensioners get apart from generous mothly pensions, 2 to 3 Rly LTCs (Passes) each per year. Curtail it to just one Rly Pass each per year for them.. Millions of retired govt/PSU employees don’t get any such post-retirement LTC facility at all. In no other private/public sector company such lavish LTCfacilities/benefits are showered on the employees as in Railways. Some past unethical, irrational, unfair, unusual baggages in Railways do need to be unloaded at the very earliest, preferably from 1st April this year.

Point No.2 opening line of my comments should read: (2). Generating approx.Rs.10000 crores addl.revenues for Railways ... ... .and not approx. Rs.10000. addl.revenues.

This the problem with journalists when they ally with any political parties, where they have to defend the party bosses decisions. The comparison between Bullet Trains & Electrification's works are not there, Even the writer knows the cost involved is so huge and the Indian Railways can not afford at the moment. This is not just elitist but also Modi wants to be remembered for bringing Bullet Train to his home state...else why it should start with Ahmedabad..???

From where UPA GOVT left Indian Rly NDA GOVT has no doubt removed many speed brakers and put IR on fast forward track but many questions remains unanswered.....can a nation develop if doesnot care for at par development across all parts?whats the big thing about providing a diaper to a baby or a bottle of milk? Did not such news got 500 crore worth publicity where in India even a daily wager is found to do such charity at many times during his life time which remains unnoticed? Does the media tell or PMO REPORT cards tells The nation why many commericial routes have more than 5 tracks in operation and N F Rly doesnot have 2nd track?why 1798 crorw sanctioned in budget 3 yra ago.not cleared by CCEA for doubling of tracks and it cleared less utilised tracks sanctioned recently ?Why NF RLY HAS TO write to RLY BOARD that it doesnot need dbl lines surely for vested interests?Why WB got.Metro 30 yrs back and other states not even thinking aboit it? What Suresh Prabhu gave so far is what every passengers rights were but so.long they did not get as surely pocketed by corrup rly offiers. Can Suresh Prabhu tell why Rangia Divn cum Jn does not have common toilets and why it needs VIP LOUNGE?WHY RLY OFFICERS provided Royal Saloons at their disposal at tax payers money as they are legal heirs of British Royal family.Why a complainant of NF RLY is threatened by Senior Rly officer GM OR RB does nothing about it? Unless Suresh Prabhu stops distributing freebies at taxpayers money just to get publicity unless all zones divisions brought at par with each others nothing can be achieved..

Suresh Prabhu is doing many good things. However, the R&D, product development, efficiency and up gradation of manufacturing facilities need special emphasis. Prabhu must lay the foundation that will make the manufacturing plants of Railways produce the contemporary products of world class standard. It must develop a large number of vendors. It must compete with global players and export.

circonstancié yachting discrétionnaire <a href="">christian louboutin pvc-accented sandals</a> <a href="">nike blazer sb low</a> irradiantpositionniez

say thanks to so a lota lot for your site it helps a great deal [url=]buy nba 2k17 vc[/url]

Thanks for the purpose of providing this kind of substantial posting buy fifa 17 coins

Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.