Millennium Post

Mitigating the crisis

Mitigating the crisis

The phenomena of Indian Railways may justifiably be said to be the life in the backbone of the Indian economy. Operating as the fourth largest railway network in the world by size and an electrified route length of at least 67,368 kms, the Indian Railway runs more than 20,000 passenger trains every day from 7,349 stations across the country. The very obvious implications being that not only do the Railways carry a multitude of people for a wide range of purposes, all of which have an economic bearing, with the connectivity thus facilitated, the mobility of people, especially of labour, contributes to the economy in myriad ways. With the vast expanse of India's rail network, the number of jobs it generates and the number of livelihoods thus supported both directly and indirectly, are also factors of economic significance. However, notwithstanding the sway of economic slowdown, Indian Railways' earnings dropped in August as the coal loading took a hit because of the unprecedented floods. The Railways is facing a shortfall of around Rs 30,000 crore by year-end owing to the slowdown in earnings and mounting expenditure. In order to mitigate the impact of this, the Railway Board has suggested some short-term measures such as getting sponsors to clean railway stations and trains and discontinuing trains with below 50 per cent occupancy. According to a report, the August-end figures indicate that the national transporter has already overshot its spending. The earnings have grown by nearly 3.4 per cent while the expenses of Indian Railways have increased by nearly 9 per cent in this financial year. The Railways' earnings and expenditure numbers till the month of July were fine before torrential rains took hold and the earnings dropped in August. Two reasons for the current condition of the Railways are rain and the dependency on coal, the transport of which is a major contributor to the earnings of the Indian Railways. In order to analyse the matter, the primary reasons for the situation could rather be distractions from the matter at hand but it is the management of the crisis and all efforts made in this direction that are worthy of heeding. The peripheral discussions about the backwardness in being able to manage a situation from unbridled rain or the continued dependency on coal in a fast heating planet and warming planet causing erratic weather events and much more trouble stand valid but the fact that the situation with the world's fourth-largest rail network is being promptly addressed is the matter of immediate concern.

With the aim to contribute to societal goals of a philanthropic, activist, or charitable nature also by engaging in or support volunteering practices, corporate social responsibility is a practice of private business self-regulation which, in the current situation comes as a useful means to address the crisis. A number of international laws have developed and numerous organisations have used their authority to push corporate social responsibility beyond individual or industry-wide initiatives. Although considered a form of corporate self-regulation, it has evolved to now considerably from voluntary decisions at the level of individual organisations, and mandatory schemes at regional, national, and international levels. The key measures the Railway Board proposed include cleaning of railway stations and trains through sponsorship and CSR. Other immediate steps include reviewing trains with less than 50 per cent occupancy and decreasing their frequency or merging them, eliminating diesel engines which are more than 30 years old to save fuel, repairing staff quarters by monetising Indian Railways' land, saving cost of fuel by implementing better practices, optimising maintenance practices as well as rework operations for better earnings. Strategising to reduce the cost of inventory and fuel consumption is also done with a view to increase earnings. All the zones of Indian Railways have been given a free hand to raise non-fare revenue. The immediate focus is to raise savings of around Rs 5,000 crore as that is the sum that has been already spent off-budget. CSR in the Indian Railways include a range of services such as housing amenities, medical and healthcare services, welfare benefits and staff benefit funds, canteen facilities, education facilities including schools, recreational activities and retirement benefits. These are necessary support system for the Railways staff at various levels. In this duality of the Railways functioning as the key component of the economy, the debatable matter is if altering its structure could have any adverse impact on its stakeholders. It might be largely perceived that being a government-owned sector, the railway is expected to operate along the lines of a non-profit-organisation. However, there is no denying that necessary support in the form of corporate social responsibility also has its dividends for welfare of people and society at large. Certainly, the Indian Railways plays an indispensable role in the social and economic development of India. Striking a balance in its structure and operation is key to optimal function.

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