New Delhi: Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India has outlined a vision for fast tracking the country’s economic growth based on the intrinsic strength, capabilities and potential of its people. The Prime Minister and his team of ministers arrived at the centre stage at a time when the entire growth sentiment based itself on a rather clichéd sustainability model, which more or less ensured, if anything — a certain stagnation in various important sectors of the economy. It was a task cut out and an unprecedented challenge to envisage a higher growth path with an attempt to take the long overdue “great leap forward”. With the “business as usual” approach in both actions and thinking across bureaucracy, industry and services, it was time to convert “rhetoric” into “reality”. A lot was required to be done across departments, sectors and enterprises. The growth output in many important sectors had to be doubled in the backdrop of closed mindsets, all pervasive cynicism, severe resources crunch and lack of investment into the future. Indian Railways was not very different.
Policy reforms, initiatives and improved business sentiments in the country during the last one year resulted in a robust growth output in terms of GDP for 2014-15 and is now poised towards further improvements during 2015-16.
The Prime Minister rightly mentioned in one of his addresses that Railways was always considered “only as mode of transport in our country, we want to see Railways as a backbone of Indian economic development”. This statement has to be seen in perspective of the much needed growth required in the core sectors of the economy, especially energy and transportation to provide the impetus to the desired growth trajectory.
Indian Railways, which is one of the most important core sectors of the economy, is the third largest railway network under single management with over 66,000 route km. It carries over 23 million passengers along with 3 million tonnes of freight loading daily. The network is served with over 7,000 stations, moves over 21,000 trains daily and supports 1.3 million employees. In addition to moving millions of passengers, Indian Railways moves sizable traffic of some of major essential commodities like coal, POL, fertilizers, food grains, cement, iron ore, etc. Transportation of passengers and freight on the same network, which suffered for want of expansion and lack of investments in the last few decades makes the task of putting it back on rails all the more difficult. Both freight and passenger traffic, however, in spite of annual incremental growth, continue to use the same fixed infrastructure, whose capacity is now over saturated on most of the important rail routes, thereby prohibiting any further growth.
The resource crunch and lack of investment continued to adversely affect various essential projects, the expansion plans and infrastructural/technological upgrade of its assets. During the last few decades, investment in rail network in all major economies, especially China increased manifold. But in India lack of investment not only impeded the progress of financially viable and operationally required projects, but the thin spread of resources resulted in a huge shelf of projects languishing for want of funds. The result was saturation of capacity and stunted growth of traffic. During the last five years, Indian Railways’ incremental growth in terms of originating freight loading remained stagnant at around 4% and that of number of passengers continued to slide down to a negative growth. This scenario indeed presented enormous challenges for the new government.
Concerted efforts started during 2014-15 to take out Indian Railways from stagnation to a high growth path. The emphasis was on development of infrastructure, which was the key for Indian Railways’ development. During 2014-15, 1,983 km of railway lines and 1,375 km of electrification were commissioned, additional rolling stock inducted and a number of capacity augmentation works were completed. The operating ratio came down and a revenue growth of over 12.6% was achieved. A record 1,098 million tonnes of originating freight loading was achieved during 2014-15.
In February 2015, it was time for presenting the Railway Budget for 2015-16, which was given a paradigm shift from the traditional approach in many ways. The biggest ever plan size of over Rs 100,000 crore, which is 53.5% higher than ever, was envisaged. This involves outlays for capacity enhancement works increasing by 138% and for passenger amenity works by 67%. Apart from covering all aspects that impact the common passenger, the budget made special provisions for senior citizens, especially-abled passengers, women passengers and students. It also provided a road map for skill development, travel capacity enhancement, altered travel experience, Make in India, resource mobilization, private public partnership, governance, safety, environment, technological upgrade and international cooperation.
For the first time the Budget also indicated a plan of action for growth for the next four years, i.e. 2015-2019, which included expansion of network, technical upgrade, extensive use of information technology, system improvements and reforms, induction of improved variety of rolling stock and completion of Dedicated Freight Corridors. A higher projected growth for transportation output is being targeted for the years 2015-16 and onwards to match with the growth in various core sectors of the national economy.
The NDA government completed one year on 26 May 2015. With all the new initiatives that have been taken during the last one year, it was time for us to celebrate these achievements. However, on Indian Railways we decided to move into the new year by not only highlighting the performance of the last one year, but also by making a new beginning. We considered it fit to reach out to our passengers, the common public of the country which travels in millions by Indian Railways on a daily basis. How was this common passenger’s travelling experience? What amenities and services are expected by him/her and whether Indian Railways is able to meet those demands and aspirations, were some of the concerns that needed addressing. It was also the time to reach out to these passengers in order to obtain their suggestions and by ensuring that the basic services which the Indian Railways is supposed to provide to its customers are being provided. We, therefore, decided to organise a fortnight long programme, which was called “Railyatri Upbhokta Pakhwada” to mark the beginning of the new year of the government from 26 May to 9 June all over Indian Railways.
This “Pakhwada” was organised not only to highlight the achievements of Indian Railways in all spheres during the last one year under the main theme of “Saal Ek Shuruaat Anek”, but also to rededicate ourselves in the service of our passengers and customers as we continue to work relentlessly towards improving various aspects of this biggest service provider.
It is our constant endeavour to provide efficient, economical and safe transportation services to our passengers and major customers.
The “Rail Yatri/Upbhokta Pakhwada” from 26.5.2015 to 9.6.2015 has also been a countrywide attempt by Indian Railways to reach out to its customers and engage them in identified areas of interface. The enthusiasm and response of all stakeholders, including the railway staff in respect of the programmes conducted during the Pakhwada has been truly overwhelming. The initial response including media coverage, the feedback received on Facebook and Twitter, etc., indicates that the ‘Pakhwada’ has not only encompassed a vast gamut of activities covering nearly all dimensions related to passenger/customer experience, but also engaged the railway staff, unions, senior officers, railway PSUs, NGOs, passenger associations, press and media across the length and breadth of the country at an unprecedented scale. The sheer dimension and reach of this effort makes it a historical event.
The fortnight long Railyatri Upbhokta Pakhwada was based on the following themes:
- Seva (services and amenities): Improving services and amenities for passengers at stations and on trains.
- Samarpan (dedication of projects to the nation): Dedication, commissioning, inauguration and foundation/stone laying of 300+ projects across Indian Railways.
- Sahyog (co-operation and participation): Seeking the co-operation of PSUs through MOUs, staff and trade unions through HR initiatives like health camp, yoga, colony improvement and of local public by engaging NGOs, passenger associations, etc.
- Sankalp (commitment): A commitment to provide quality service — punctual, efficient and transparent.
- Sampark (awareness, contact, outreach): Reaching out to customers and passengers.
Some of the tangible outcomes of this historical passenger outreach effort of Indian Railways are as under:
- 233 projects/works of passenger amenities and services ranging from escalators, foot overbridges, station buildings, reservation offices, new platforms, new train services etc., were commissioned/opened for railway passengers at an approximate cost of Rs 4,000 crore.
- Work on 73 projects connected with passenger amenities and augmentation of network capacity was commenced, costing approximately Rs 550 crore.
- Over 7,000 railway stations were inspected by railway officials and taken up for improvement in various passenger amenities.
- 4,000 road shows were undertaken by senior railway officers at railway station premises and in trains to interact with rail users, obtain their suggestions and take feedback on the railway services provided.
- Passenger outreach through railway officers and staff, unions, NGOs, scouts, guides, charitable organisations and through social media touched over 7 million passengers and public (Facebook reach 5 million, Twitter impressions 1.3 million, and .7 million passenger interactions at stations and in trains).
- 7,500 cleanliness and sanitation drives and inspections were undertaken at various stations, railway premises and colonies under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan with the involvement of railway staff, passengers and NGOs.
- 2,700 catering services checks were undertaken in order to ensure quality of catering services and standards of hygiene at various stations and in trains.
- 4,600 intensive ticket checking drives were launched to curb the menace of ticketless travelling and to prohibit the entry of antisocial elements. These drives resulted in the detection of 1.6 lakh cases and recovery of Rs 9 crore of railway revenue.
- 3,000 inspections for improving the punctuality of trains were undertaken during this period.
- 126 skill development programmes were organised in various railway workshops and production units to impart training to 5,500 persons.
- Intensive safety awareness drives were launched on all zonal railways, with focus on precautions to be taken by road users at unmanned level crossing gates. 8,500 such inspections were conducted by railway officials.
- 1,400 inspections were conducted to check the presence of antisocial elements, touts and other irregularities by teams of vigilance officers.
- MOUs were signed between zonal railways and 5 railway PSUs for 10 identified railway stations for their participation in development of passenger amenities through CSR.
- 1,300 medical and health camps were organised by the zonal railways at different locations, which were attended by 55,000 persons — both railway employees and their families and also members of the public.
- 22,000 staff quarters were taken up for repairs and maintenance in 450 identified railway staff colonies.
- 590 yoga camps were organised, which were attended by 19,000 persons.
- As an outreach effort, 176 press conferences were organised at zonal HQs, divisional HQs at state capitals and district HQs. Over 6,700 news items were published.
- Participation of state governments, FICCI, ASSOCHAM and CII was also obtained in Railways’ efforts and outreach exercises.
- World Environment Day was celebrated on 5 June 2015 in Delhi and in all zonal railways.
Besides the tangible benefits attained through additional facilities created and specific drives launched to improve efficiency, some of the intangible but highly desirable benefits from the Pakhwada include the excellent bonhomie and spirit of cooperation that got generated between passengers and railway personnel. It was a rare build-up of much needed confidence of the public at large in the Indian Railways.
Above all, this was just one of our efforts to reiterate Indian Railways’ commitment to become the “engine of growth” for national development with our slogan “Rail Badhe, Desh Badhe”.