With a Rs 90,000-crore surplus over five years, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad says the real change in the Railways is not about the money but the shift in thinking. “We are conscious about remaining a profit-making enterprise,” he told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview following his interim rail budget.
In an interview to Gautam Chikermane and Varghese K George, he conceded a lot needs to be done to improve amenities.
The turnaround is good, but what have travellers got?
Reduction of 2 per cent in fares across classes is not a small thing. In the last five years, we made a record surplus — Rs 90,000 crore. Before that, Nitish Kumar and his alliance with the India Shining campaign ruined the Railways. Today, Indian Railways is being talked about across the world. We worked with the same people and situation and achieved this without causing trouble to anyone. This is only the beginning. We have set a high benchmark for the Railways and we have to cross that.
How has the slowdown affected the Railways?
It has affected the entire world, but the turnaround is already visible. We lost traffic during October-December, it is slowly returning. Had it not been for the global situation, we would have touched [a surplus of] Rs 100,000 crore. Railways will continue to make profits.
We are conscious about being a profit-making enterprise, which was not the case earlier. Some critics said that in your drive for profit, you compromised safety standards. That's nonsense, said by failed people. Officers and politicians who mismanaged and ruined the Railways are unable to digest the sheer scale of our success. There is no shortage of useless people here, who think they are intellectuals. Interview with Sudhir Kumar(Railway Minister's officer on special duty)
Is your management of the Railways going to help you in the elections?
We are not doing anything with elections in mind. We do it as a duty, without bothering about gains and losses. We share the benefits with people and, tomorrow, if there are any difficulties, we will ask people to pay a little more.
There are complaints about inadequate cleanliness and catering services. These are not from passengers, but from the media. But yes, there are issues related to cleanliness and related stuff. We are concerned about it and we are taking measures to rectify it. The quality of services needs to improve, in terms of cleanliness and catering particularly. We will sort out these issues.
Will you become rail minister after the elections?
Who knows what will happen in the future. The only thing I can say with certainty is that Advani and his communal Bharatiya Janata Party will not come to power.
Will you be prime minister, then?
I have said I will become some day. But not today or tomorrow.