Bibek Debroy to head new High-level Panel on Railway Restructuring

Bibek Debroy
Bibek Debroy is an Indian economist. Since March 2007, he has been professor at Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

New Delhi: The railway ministry took its biggest step by forming a committee on Monday to restructure the cash-strapped transport behemoth. The seven-member committee, with a term of one-year, will be chaired by renowned economist Dr Bibek Debroy and will have among its members former cabinet secretary K.M.Chandrashekar. The seven-member panel will be headed by economist Bibek Debroy and include former cabinet secretary K.M.Chandrashekhar, former CMD of Procter and Gamble Gurcharan Das, senior fellow of Centre for Policy Research Prof.Partha Mukhopadhyay, former Managing Director of National Stock Exchange Ravi Narain, former Financial Commissioner of Railway Board Rajendra Kashyap, and a nominee from the department of economic affairs, who is yet to be named.

Sanjay Chadha, currently serving as the Executive Director (Mechanical) of the Railway Board will be the Secretary to the Committee, the Ministry’s circular states.

The onus of the committee would be ‘reorganizing and restructuring the Railway Board and subsequently the department so that policy making and operations are separated, the department does not work in silos, policy making focuses on long-term and medium-term planning issues and operations focuses on day-to-day functioning of the organization.’

The other important aspects for the committee would be to work out ways to ‘promote exchange of officers between the railways and other departments.’ In a bid to boost the balances of a railway system that ends up spending almost 94 per cent of what it earns, the committee will have to estimate financial needs of the railways and ensure policies to raise resources from within and outside the government.

The committee has also been tasked with giving recommendations on the existing Rail Tariff Authority, the circular states. The committee would be headquartered at New Delhi and the Infrastructure Directorate of the Railway Board would be the nodal body that will coordinate the working of the committee.

The committee comes on the back of railway minister V Sadananda Gowda’s July 8 railway budget speech where he laid out one of the most depressing assessment of railway accounts in recent times. The Railways, Gowda told Parliament, earned Rs.139558 crore, of which it spent Rs.130321 crore as working expenses in the financial year 2013-14. The bleeding is compounded by the fact that thanks to low fares for the past few years, loss per kilometre per passenger has increased from 10 paise in 2000-01 to 23 paise in 2012-13.

Mega railway dreams like the Diamond Quadrilateral Network- to connect metros with high-speed trains- and the 350kmph bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad will require the kind of money the railways just cannot imagine, The Diamond Quadrilateral would require Rs.9 lakh crore, while the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train would require Rs.60000 crore at current prices. Add to that another Rs.5 lakh crore over the next 10 years just to complete ongoing projects.

In a railway system where safety isn’t anything to write home about, the railways will be needing Rs.40000 crores for track renewals, elimination of unmanned level crossings, building road-overbridges and road-underbridges.

It has also been asked to look into promoting exchange of officers between railways and other government ministries and departments.

The present system of organising Railways along departmental lines – electrical, mechanical, traffic, engineering, finance – is being considered an anathema in the changed economic environment.

Officials within railways and several committees have noted that the turf war between departments is affecting the modernization agenda. “The present organizational set-up on departmental lines is very conservative and lacks dynamism needed in a transport organization of the stature of Indian Railways. Such a set-up also gives rise to inter-departmental rivalry losing sight of the overall organizational goals including safety,” noted the Anil Kakodkar panel which had E Sridharan as one its members.

The Modi government’s first rail budget had announced that the railway board would be restructured.

About Bibek Debroy

Bibek Debroy (born 25 January 1955) is an Indian economist. Since March 2007, he has been professor at Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. He has also been Visiting Honorary Senior Research Fellow for Institute for South Asian Studies in National University of Singapore from May 2009.

Debroy studied at Ramakrishna Mission Narendrapur, Presidency College of the University of Calcutta, Delhi School of Economics and Trinity College, Cambridge.

His past positions include the Director of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, Consultant to the Department of Economic Affairs of Finance Ministry (Government of India), Secretary General of PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Director of the project LARGE (Legal Adjustments and Reforms for Globalising the Economy), set up by the Finance Ministry and UNDP for examining legal reforms in India. Between December 2006 and July 2007, he was the rapporteur[clarification needed] for implementation in the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor. Debroy has authored several books, papers and popular articles, has been the Consulting Editor of Indian financial and other newspapers. He has been a member of the National Manufacturing Competitive Council from November 2004 to December 2009.

In the past Debroy has taught at Presidency College, Calcutta, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and the National Council of Applied Economic Research.

In 2010, he started authoring a ten-volume unabridged English translation of the Hindu epic The Mahabharata.