The alleged mastermind of the fodder scam has now given some fodder for thought to academics and economists. To give Laluji’s lecture to IIM(A) students the right perspective, he might as well have said, in his colloquial Bihari, “Tanik dhyan se suniye, jindagi mein nuksan se nafa karne wala jadugar aap ke samne apni safalta ka raaj khol raha hai.” (Please listen carefully, the magician who turned loss to profit is unravelling the secret of his success.)
Indian Railways, the public sector behemoth, was once rightly described as a bottomless pit. No one in their wildest dreams could ever have imagined that it would turn the corner and actually start yielding profits. Enough reason, one might add, for IIM to have broken with tradition to invite a politician to relate his magic mantra for such a turnaround.
In India, the return on investment in public sector projects is, by and large, abysmal. Many of them make heavy losses and this is naturally a matter of national concern, since infrastructure projects and other important works are linked with them. They are in need of a similar turnaround as the Railways has lately shown.
Needless to state, Lalu Prasad Yadav, as Railway Minister, provided the right encouragement and inspiration for his bureaucratic team. That the turnaround took place without increasing either passenger tariff or freight charges shows the massive benefits in planning meticulously, streamlining operations and improving efficiency and productivity.
The enviable generation of internal revenues has made it possible for the Railways to grow, within a five-year span, from being a defaulter in the payment of dividend to the Centre to being a substantial contributor. Indian Railways paid Rs 13,612 crore last year and reportedly intends to pay Rs 20,000 crore this year.
Yadav’s announcement that he would set up a chair in IIM(A) to study the Railways infrastructure and economy augurs well for further professionalisation of the organisation’s management. For things still have to move forward. Substantial revenue loss due to ticketless travel must be plugged. And the introduction of luxury packages to cover areas of tourist interest can be a money-spinner.
What is heartening is that there has been a sharp decline in the number of accidents. However, updating safety standards to match international norms must take primacy over everything else. The recommendations of various committees, including the Rakesh Mohan Committee, must be adhered to in this respect. The safety of the passengers within trains should be given the same importance as the safety of trains on the tracks.