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Why Prime Minister Narendra Modi must not remove Suresh Prabhu

Prabhu is perhaps the only minister in the recent times, after Nitish Kumar, who is reforms-oriented. He has not shied away from hiking fares — keeping in mind the acute cash crisis the giant organisation faces despite its monopoly in the sector. His intent is right, his vision is clear and things, at least on some fronts, things look better.

analysis Updated: Aug 24, 2017 13:23 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times
Indian Railways,Narendra Modi,Suresh Prabhu
Union railways minister Suresh Prabhu during the inauguration of the 'Tejas' train. (PTI)

There are four things passengers want when they are travelling by train: Punctuality, comfort, safety and cleanliness. Railways minister Suresh Prabhu has diligently delivered on the last one —cleanliness. He has also improved the comfort level of travelling by train. But punctuality and passenger safety continue to be sore areas for the Indian Railways.

On November 27, 1956, then rail minister Lal Bahadur Shastri announced his resignation in the Lok Sabha for the Ariyalur train accident. And on Wednesday, Prabhu offered to resign after the two derailments. The derailment of Kalinga Utkal Express has so far claimed more than 20 lives and left another 156 injured. It also shows that there’s still a long way before the Indian Railways make its vast network accident-free (a large number of accidents are caused by human errors) and improve punctuality.

Despite these accidents, it will be a mistake to remove Suresh Prabhu.

Here’s why. Prabhu is perhaps the only minister in the recent times, after Nitish Kumar, who is reforms-oriented. He has not shied away from hiking fares — keeping in mind the acute cash crisis the giant organisation faces despite its monopoly in the sector. His intent is right, his vision is clear and things, at least on some fronts, look better.

In the last 13 years, the seat of the railway minister on the second floor of Rail Bhavan has almost become a game of musical chairs. During the 10-year-long UPA era, Indian Railways saw eight railway ministers. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s record was slightly better than the Indira Gandhi regime when India saw 11 railway ministers during a period of 13 years. And in 2012 it came to such an extent that one minister presented the rail budget, then he was sacked, and another minister replied to the debate on the rail budget.

But things didn’t improve.

Being a rootless politician also helps Suresh Prabhu in managing the railways, which has been a victim of regional political ambitions for a long time. Prabhu, unlike Mamata Banerjee or Ram Vilas Paswan, didn’t accord special attention to his voter-base. That’s why he could afford to present a budget without announcing any new train.

Indian Railways need better supervision at the ground level, overhaul of its archaic infrastructure and bureaucratic set up and generate more revenue to become sustainable. And yes, India also needs high-speed trains to connect the vast country in a faster, better way.

Prabhu’s entry into the Cabinet and the BJP had been dramatic. Hours before Modi’s first Cabinet reshuffle, he joined the BJP and his name was included in the list of new ministers who would take oath. His exit will not help the Indian Railways. There’s no guarantee that the 14th railway minister in 13 years will improve the Indian Railways.

@SaubhadraC

First Published: Aug 24, 2017 13:23 IST