Getting ready to take on new challenges
What has the Ministry of Railways achieved in the last two years?
When we talk about passenger amenities and the Digital India initiative, the Indian Railways launched three social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube with the handle @RailMinIndia. Also, we have employed a real-time 24x7 public grievance system through Twitter and provided medical, security, and other emergency assistance to passengers--the first of its kind. The All India Security Helpline “182” has been set up to report any untoward incident and seek emergency help during travel.
The All India Passenger Helpline “138”, too, has been provided for all other query/complaints during travel. Reservation quota of two lower berths per coach in Sleeper class has been enhanced to four lower berths per coach for Senior Citizens and Women.
Out of 1252 stations identified for upgradation to Adarsh Stations’, 986 have so far been developed. In the last two years, 160 have been developed. We have launched a scheme called “SMS Gateway” that enables passengers to receive SMS alerts on the status of reserved tickets.
The New Generation system put in place can book 7200 online tickets instead of 2000 tickets per minute. Moreover, it can attend 2,00,000 enquiries instead of 50000 per minute. My ministry has also rationalised the computerised Passenger Reservation System (PRS). This will enable passengers to buy tickets even after the preparation of reservation charts.
Paperless unreserved ticketing, including paperless platform tickets through a mobile phone, was introduced in suburban sections of Western Railway, Central Railway, South Central Railway, Southern Railway, Eastern Railway, and South Eastern Railway. Also we now have E-booking of wheelchairs.
Meanwhile, the number of berths available for the physically challenged has been increased from tw to four. VIKALP, Alternative Train Accommodation System (ATAS) was launched with a view of providing confirmed accommodation to wait-listed passengers and also ensuring optimal utilisation of available accommodation.
We have launched pre-cooked (ready-to-eat) meals of reputed brands on some trains. Commencement of provision of Braille signage on 3000 coaches has been given in order to facilitate visually impaired passengers. We have also given high priority to security for women. Installation of CCTV surveillance cameras in trains is a first such fitment done in the Amritsar-New Delhi-Shan-e Punjab Express.
What are the major challenges that you have faced and overcome?
There have been varied challenges. Every year and every issue is a challenge. We have been able to work on most of them. Some of these challenges include freight handling, raising money, and getting projects approved and then implemented. We have also faced challenges in getting the cooperation of state governments, besides streamlining the entire system and making it more transparent. Most of these challenges have been met and surpassed. Now we are getting ready for our new challenges.
How has this journey been for you?
It has been an interesting journey thus far. Working for the country is an honour and a most enjoyable experience.
The Railways is the largest carrier in the country used by people. How do you plan to expand this facility?
Our focus has always been on increasing the capacity of passengers. Last year we spent about Rs 1 lakh crore on doubling and tripling trains. Once you have this is in place, a better signalling system is established. We are also constructing elevated corridors wherever possible. All this will help in capacity augmentation and in turn help us run more trains.
Have sanitation and hygiene in Railway coaches improved?
Sanitation and cleanliness have improved dramatically in the Railways. Everyone has been
saying that. In fact, we did an independent survey wherein stations were ranked according to cleanliness. There has been a marked improvement in this regard. To make it even better we are consistently working on it.
Tell us about the Ministry of Railways’ target to have bullet trains in India by 2023? What progress have you made?
We are definitely on track to have bullet trains functional by 2023. Recently a delegation went to Japan headed by Deputy Chairman of Niti Aayog Dr. Arvind Panagariya. Certainly, by 2023 we will be able to complete this task.
Last year in December, India and Japan had signed a deal to build a high-speed train connection between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, implementing Shinkansen technology for the first time. The construction of a high-speed network between Mumbai Central station and Ahmedabad Junction is slated to begin in 2017. It is expected to be completed by as early as 2023.
The Ministry of Railways has asked the Finance Ministry for money regarding setting up of the ‘safety fund’ for Railways. Any progress?
We have taken up the matter with the Finance Ministry and this will help us in many ways. These are all the spin-off benefits with the focus on increasing speed, bringing in more traffic, improving the economic viability of railways, upgrading the system, reducing the maintenance cost, and improving the viability of the entire system as a whole.
The amount we have asked for from the Finance Ministry for this is Rs 1.21 thousand crores, which in the long run is going to help the railways immensely in modernising. Probably in the next 20-25 years, its impact will be felt. Another important component is the reduction in unmanned level crossing.
Railways are the largest consumer of diesel in the country and we pay development cess for that. Even if that is returned, it will be very helpful for us. There is a good logic to this and we should implement it. We had recently written a letter to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley seeking Rs 1.21 lakh crore to create a separate safety fund for undertaking various safety works, including track works and elimination of level crossings by the construction of rail over-bridges and rail under bridges.
How do you plan to crackdown on the menace perpetrated by touts?
Dalal pe lagaam lagane ki sakht zaroorat hai (We have to come down heavily on these touts to curtail this menace.) We have made a lot of arrests. We have also filed many cases against them. Even if they possess authorised licenses and indulge in unscrupulous activities, they are caught and their licenses cancelled. In fact in my Budget speech this year also I have mentioned that to monitor this malpractice, we will be installing CCTV cameras.
(Tania Ameer is Special Correspondent, Millennium Post.)