Suresh Prabhu plans to carry Trade Unions along as he seeks to modernize Railways

New Delhi:  Railway minister Suresh Prabhu on Saturday said that employees’ unions are on board in revamping and revitalizing the decaying state-run transporter. The minister emphasized that everyone, from staff to officers of 17 zones and 68 divisions of railways across the country are working together to meet the common goal.

In an interview, the minister said that leaders of two big railway employees unions (All Indian Railwaymen Federation and National Federation of Indian Railways) have assured support in reviving railways. “I am very happy to say leaders of two big railway unions are also involved. They have said we want to work together to make railways better. We are trying to bring in transparency, improve efficiency, bring in more accountability and make management participatory. The leaders said they also want all these changes. So why do we oppose them,” Prabhu told.

Prabhu indicated that he is not in a hurry to push radical reforms that may annoy powerful unions and instead is trying to take them on board in his effort for capacity augmentation and modernization of railways. Replying to a question regarding recommendations of Debroy panel in its interim report, Prabhu said, “We have to wait for the final report. I have suggested to the committee that they should also seek views from our employees and our unions because sometimes communication gap causes misunderstanding. They also agree with that.”

On departmentalism in railways killing big ideas, the minister said, “This is an inherent problem that we need to address together. When we meet in my conference room, which has a round table, I say nobody is against each other and we are on the same side. So, let us work to realize the target. There is no distinction between six different members in the board, 17 zones and 68 divisions. All of them work together to meet the common goal. We are sorting out these issues with open discussions.”

Prabhu said that working with railway unions is a unique experience. He said railway unions are very strong and probably there is not one commercial organization in the world which has as many employees as the Indian Railways. “China’s PLA may have more employees, but that is not a commercial organization so the railways is the largest,” said the minister.

The unions have rejected some recommendations, saying the Debroy report has given a roadmap for privatization of the Indian Railways as a whole, which will neither help passengers nor the country. However, they have welcomed some proposals such as prioritization of projects, reimbursement of subsidy, setting up of training, R&D, IT centres and universities, integration of IT infrastructure and reform of accounting structure.