Difficult decisions likely in the short run: Railway Minister

Sadananda-Gowda-Railway-MinisterThough D.V.Sadananda Gowda, the new Railway Minister, says he is still finding his feet, he is aware of the repercussions for the Railways if the disturbances in Iraq get prolonged.

In an interview, the former Karnataka Chief Minister refrained from making tall promises, adding that the results would be there for all to see at the end of his five-year term.

Meanwhile, Gowda requested officials in charge of delivering services to share with him all their problems. Without getting into specifics, Gowda indicated that there may be difficulties for the Railways in the short run.

Edited Excerpts:

What do you see as your key challenges?

In the past 60 years, the Railways has not been modernised. It has not seen the kind of development that is seen in other countries. We ought to have made Railways a part and parcel of our development strategy.

We should usher in major reforms – with the use of IT and technology – in every area of the Railways. This itself is a challenge for me, because bringing all this to track requires time and money. First money and then time.

How do you intend to manage the two biggest costs – staff and fuel?

These are a part of the challenge. Fuel costs have gone up by 30 per cent in the last one year. If fuel costs go up further, we will be in more trouble.

But with the ongoing disturbances in Iraq…

Yes …if the same trend continues in Iraq for another six months or so, we will be in great difficulty, as almost all our fuel costs are largely dependent on diesel. First, there should be more budgetary support. Second, we should go for alternative funding patterns, such as public-private partnerships and foreign direct investment (FDI). Also, the financial system has to be revamped.

FDI is already allowed in certain segments, Also, for some time now, the Railways has tried getting investments through PPPs, but many investors have repented…

The policies pursued have not been particularly favourable to investors. Some new policies are needed to make the investments viable.

We should find out a way. Investor interest is still alive, but it requires a booster dose. We should ensure that investors also get some returns.

Take coal circuits. We should be in touch with the Coal Ministry to build dedicated circuits and get funding from there. We should go for more dedicated freight corridors. We should take steps to increase revenue generation. Despite the public resistance, we must take the hard decisions that are required.

You talked about the need for some tonic. People are ready to pay more, but want better services, such as clean trains.

Yes, I agree. If we give good services, nobody will complain. But if we don’t give good services and simply ask people to pay more – be it passenger or freight – they will blame us.

Cleanliness is one of the basic issues…

I have already taken up that issue. In the last 10 days, all DRMs have been directed to visit one station every day. In fact, I have called the meeting of all General Managers (GMs) and Divisional Railway Managers (DRMs) on Thursday and will interact with them all day.

Though we make policies and plans, GMs and DRMs are the ones who man the service delivery points. We should get suggestions from them. I will also urge these officials that in case they are unable to convey (problems) to their higher officers, they are at liberty to convey them to me. I am here to resolve their problems.

DRMs and GMs are at delivery points, but are also dependent on various departments. How will inter-departmental rivalry, as referred to in various reports, be tackled?

There are many committee reports and all of them are in cold storage. Reports are not enough, especially when we can hear out people directly. In Thursday’s meeting, if they (GMs and DRMs) highlight problems, I will note them down and solve them.

You have said that a fare hike is inevitable…

I have not yet taken a decision. But the Interim Budget by Mallikarjun Kharge (ex-Rail Minister) calculated everything on the basis of a fare hike. The sad thing is that he never implemented it and put it in the backburner for political gains. So, I will have to see how to deal with that matter.

You talked about e-tendering and digitising work at Rail Bhawan. Anything specific…

I cannot share anything now.

You are from Bangalore, the IT hub. Will you dip into the IT pool to improve rail services?

Yes, I will do that. You have caught the pulse. But, I cannot share everything now.

Can you share top two-three things that you will do in short run?

We are accountable to people after five years. In Railways, there cannot be a strategy for 100 days, or six months.