Prabhu clears the air
“Railways will continue to be owned by the government of India,We want change not for the sake of change”. Suresh Prabhu had asserted recently. Prabhu’s remarks come in the backdrop of a raging debate on the privatisation of railways with the government-appointed committee headed by economist Bibek Debroy recommending corporatization of the loss-making public transporter and suggesting that the ministry of railways be only responsible for policy-making and private players should be allowed to run passengers and freight operations. According to the latest CAG report on Railways, the Indian Railways was unable to meet its operational cost of passenger and other coach services and there was a loss of Rs 23,643 crore in the same during 2011-12. Privatisation, Prabhu said, “is a bogey being raised by those who do not want change” even if it is for improving performance and facilities. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has put his foot down and said no to the idea of transferring key assets to private players and from the looks of it complete privatisation is off the table too. This however may not be a bad thing though. The Indian Railways which is one of the largest networks of the world in terms of passenger volume seems to need all the support it can get. To the uninitiated the Indian railways seems to be in a perpetual existential crisis of sorts. This is in part, due to years of neglect in the initial period post Independence. However Prabhu’s tenure has been marked by gradual and steady clarifying of policy priorities. What is important for the Railways is time-driven change. There are certain priorities which can only be fulfilled by the Government and not the private sector. Some of these essential priorities include: completion of the long talked about dedicated freight corridor, increased passenger capacity, participation of the states and more decentralization are the keys to turning the railways around. Prabhu has also clarified time and time again that as Railways seeks to expand capacity, expenses will not necessarily go up in that proportion. The Indian railways has a certain fixed cost which has already been taken care of, what perhaps needs to be optimized are the variables. For station development Indian railways must also try to look into new possibilities. There are three-four things the railways can do—continue to do station development in areas that have already been identified. Secondly, enter agreements with all the state governments excluding smaller states. Why India could not develop stations earlier is because state governments and local self-governments did not cooperate as much. Now when they become stakeholders, this will hopefully be taken care of too. Thirdly, the Indian government is trying and developing certain greenfield stations. So these satellite greenfield stations can also be done with the PPP model. There is hope that the ailing behemoth that is the Indian Railways will soon be turned around. Crores of citizens depend on the railways and its imperative that it become a much more reliable public service.