Railways to spend INR 55 Crore to provide WiFi in important trains: But when?

नई दिल्ली New Delhi: Indian Railways has proposed to introduce Wi-Fi facility at A1 and A category stations and in 50 rakes of important trains, like Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duranto, reports the Press Information Bureau. Indian Railways had already introduced Wi-Fi facility in 3 rakes of Howrah-New Delhi-Howrah Rajdhani Express as a pilot project, in April 2013 after initially announcing it in February 2011.

For this pilot project Eastern Railway has apparently spent Rs.6.67 crore. For the proposed introduction of Wi-Fi facility in other Rajdhani trains and in Shatabdi and Duranto category of trains an estimated budget of Rs.55 crore has been fixed. Also, it seems the Northern Railway has already been provided Rs.1 crore in the current financial year to begin executing this.

RailTel Corporation of Indian Limited (RailTel) – a public sector undertaking under the Ministry of Railways, will provide the Wi-Fi facility in stations through independent internet service providers (ISPs), with no investment on part of the Railways. Back in 2006 and again in 2008-09, RailTel notified that it plans to create Wi-Fi hotspots in 500 stations and also extend the service to the neighbouring areas.  Eight years have passed but next to no progress on this front.

Apparently the Indian Railways is keen on utilising a cost effective technology for providing Wi-Fi facility in trains and stations, and is currently deliberating the options. Implementation will begin post selection of the right technology.

Why the delay and no fixed deadlines?

Railways Minister D.V.Sadananda Gowda had announced the plan to provide Wi-Fi facility at stations in his Budget speech last month. This isn’t the first time the Indian government has announced plans of providing Wi-Fi hotspots at stations, but each time at the implementation stage things seem to take forever. It took about two years for the provision of Wi-Fi facility in Howrah-New Delhi-Howrah Rajdhani Express to proceed from the announcement stage to a pilot project.

In fact, the Indian Railways had run a similar pilot project on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shatabdi Express, back in January 2009. Why does it take the government this long to implement its plans? More importantly, why are there no fixed deadlines by which the progress of such projects can be measured?

The Minister had also announced that workstations and internet will be provided in select trains on payment basis, and that a pilot project to this effect will be launched by the end of 2014.

Various central and several state governments have earlier introduced other Wi-Fi announcements.  However In case of most of these initiatives there are no clear progress reports.