Railways minister Suresh Prabhu – a former chartered accountant known for his reformist zeal – spoke to HT about his gargantuan task of resurrecting the Indian Railways.
What is the progress regarding your initiatives to restructure and revive the Indian Railways?
Big changes are happening. Rail operations need to be scaled up and taken to the next level by enhancing the bandwidth of the implementing arms. We are working at a complete organisational restructuring. FDI/PPP investments are being promoted. Funds are being raised through extra budgetary resources with aims of yanking out the Railways from its situation of chronic under-investment. The outcome of these initiatives will shortly be visible. Once this happens, the Railways will be able to contribute 2.5% to the growth of the country’s GDP growth.
Disinvestment of rail Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) has not happened. FDI/PPP projects are proceeding slowly.
We are working at ways to monetise the PSUs and make them outcome oriented. Work attitudes are rapidly changing in all departments, including the PSUs. As for FDI/PPP projects, the Request for Propsoals (RFP) for the Marhoura and Madhepura locomotive projects has been floated. Last month, the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP-3) agreement was signed. Shortly, e-tendering for the re-development of 100 railway stations will be announced.
Restructuring plans appear to have taken a back seat...
The final report of the Bibek Debroy committee on rail restructuring is awaited, but the unbundling exercise is already on. As part of efforts to de-centralise operations, two pilot projects envisaging the signing of MoUs between two zonal headquarters with the Railway Board are on the anvil.
Are high speed or bullet trains feasible or required in India? What is the progress on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed corridor project?
India cannot just shut its eyes to advanced rail technology. At a recent meeting with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) — which is jointly conducting a pre-feasibility on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad line — I was told that the project is certainly do-able.
Several funding options are available. Things will move forward after the JICA submits its report in June.
How can the Railways contribute to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” pitch?
A committee headed by Niti Aayog member, VK Saraswat, has been set up to review projects that the Railways can undertake as part of the Make in India campaign. Big plans will be rolled out shortly.
You had spoken about the possibility of tapping pension funds from Japan and Singapore to finance rail infrastructure projects in India.
Having firmed up a long term funding agreement with the LIC, we do not need additional funds this year. For the future, finances can be arranged from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, the Finance Ministry’s new infrastructure bond, through joint-ventures with state governments — as also from pension funds.