Indian Railways is one of the largest transportation networks in the world. Still there are places in this country awaiting the rail connectivity. This largest network is now cash strapped. India is a welfare state and therefore it is evident that Indian railways (A PSU Enterprise) is struck between its commercial operations and state’s welfare perspective. Indian Railways is the obvious choice when one wants to look at India’s infrastructure status. While the new Govt. flagged off the inaugural train to the north-east state of Meghalaya, the Prime Minister reiterated the need to improve the network to fit better standards.
Railway Budget 2014-15 revealed smashing numbers saying over 5 lakh crores needed for ongoing projects. Number might be so strong but there is no surprise if you realise that only 317 of 684 projects worth 1.57 lakh crores are completed in last 30 years. So, the mathematics is clear that rest projects worth only half the said amount grew to about 5 lakh crore correcting all inflationary and commodity conditions. Railways have always been an element of politics in sanctioning rail routes and other commercial interests. The passenger segment and the freight activities have been hurting in the recent past.
The government’s commitment in improving infrastructure in India can be showcased by revamping up its own cash strapped enterprise i.e., Indian railways. Last Railway budget is no new because it stressed on improving fiscal strength, addressing safety, modernising the network to improve passenger amenities and others as exactly did by previous budget statements of previous governments. In 2006, the ministry had also set-up Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA) to effectively utilise vacant railway land for commercial purpose. Despite all these, it is clear that we are unaware of any improvement.
As India awaits Railways to improve its conditions, it is time to devise a revival plan for the same. While the technology allows cost cuts, a strong IT infrastructure is certainly a focus. Modernisation of railway stations across India should be able to measure a strong balance between welfare and commercial activities. Unmanned railway crossings continue to act as death traps for many. The major hurdle in achieving all these is investments. Investment and technology are interdependent and therefore all modes of mobilising money could be explored including PPP (Public Private Partnership) and BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) modes. Building infrastructure is not sufficient but leveraging the timely infusion of funds for maintaining them is a big task ahead. Minimizing project sanctions in a year and prioritising them without any influence from the political sphere can help Railways concentrate on the completion of those projects with strict time-frames. While the growing urbanisation accommodates shopping malls and other entertainment houses inside railway stations, it is up to us to create an environment for the same. Underground storeys can house them all. Pay to use toilets, decent waiting rooms, cleanliness, availability of fresh food and water can be a part of renovation.
Besides all these, the administrative network should be very flexible to growing needs of passengers. Co-ordination between various departments in achieving targets is the need of the hour. Can Indian Railways reach better standards? Suresh Prabhu as Railway minister is a good choice. Only time can prove his mettle in handling the biggest task (Revival of Indian Railways).
Hope for a new and safe rail travel.
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