Union Minister of Railways Suresh Prabhu on Monday told the Upper House that the Indian railways is “beemar (sick)” and asserted that the Narendra Modi government is working on a strategy to put the national transporter back on track by tackling issues like resource crunch, ageing tracks and increasing investment in infrastructure.
The Rajya Sabha later passed the appropriation bills and the demands for grants in connection with Rail Budget for 2016-17.
The minister pointed out that the government is following a regime of do’s and don’ts as the railways is passing through “very difficult times”. Replying to a debate on the Rail Budget in the Rajya Sabha, he said the government will put in place a new independent regulatory framework for revising rail fares to help maintain a balance between consumers and the railways, for which a bill will be brought soon in Parliament.
The minister said the railways would also partner with states to make investment in rail infrastructure and 16 states have agreed to partner with railways and some have also signed MoUs. “Railways is passing through very difficult times. It is right that the railways is ‘beemar’ and there is need to treat it and bring it on track,” he said.
Google makes money by monetising data, why not Indian Railways which had data of seven billion passengers who traveled in trains every year: Suresh Prabhu, Union Minister of Railways
Prabhu said Railways has many challenges to grapple with that include lack of resources, ageing tracks and increasing investment in infrastructure. He said emphasis is being laid on austerity by reducing administrative expenses, generation of revnue, augmentation of services and optimisation of costs, he said. Making a case for generating resources outside the normal revenue stream, Prabhu said the railways had data of seven billion passengers who travelled in trains every year and this information could be monetised. “Google makes money by monetising data,” he said, suggesting that the railways could take a leaf out of this classic example and said it was crucial for the railways to not be dependent on traditional sources for revenue but think of innovative ways to raise money for modernisation and creating infrastructure.
The Minister asserted that Indian Railways can’t be compared to those of China and other developed countries. “What the Chinese have invested into railways is a mind boggling number. From 2009, they have put in more than 2 per cent of their GDP whereas our share was 0.4 per cent of our GDP.
“Every time when pay commission comes, the operating ratio drops dramatically but this is the first time it has not gone down,” he told the house, accepting that the railways “had a big problem in paying” its employees.
“It (new pay commission) came into operation from January 1 this year. Despite that we managed to keep a decent operating ratio,” he said.
“Cleanliness has improved substantially in all parts of railway. It has improved inside the coaches. We have launched an SMS service named ‘Clean my coach’ which has been launched on all India basis. We have already started implementing the programmes which were announced during the budget,” he said.
Long debate on the budget saw participation of a large number of members as opposition parties alleged lack of facilities in Railways and demanded that the measures announced by previous Railway Ministers, including starting new rail lines and trains, be fulfilled at the earliest with focus on safety.
Some members said Railways does not have resources to start new projects and improve facilities for the common man and suggested privatisation as the sole alternative. However, those from the Left parties said the PPP model has failed to yield the desired results and should not be undertaken.
Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) lauded Rail Minister for focussing on fulfilling past promises held up for years.He said Railways was important for the common man perspective as a total of 82 crore people travel by trains annually and seven crore travel every month.
Bimla Kashyap Sood (BJP), while lauding the new initiatives taken by Prabhu, wanted Railway services to be expanded in Himachal Pradesh, a tourist state which she compared with Switzerland. Ritabrata Banerjee (CPI-M) opposed privatisation of Railways saying the PPP model has failed the world over.
Attacking the government for its “incapability” in running the Railways smoothly, Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu (Cong) expressed concern over falling revenue of freight and passenger trains. The railways can never be revived without improving its operating margin, he said, emphasising the need to increase revenue from freight services.
D Raja (CPI) said the Rail Budget proposals are long-term and would take time to implement. He, however, opposed the entry of private companies in the sector.