As Piyush Goyal takes charge of railway ministry, many challenges await him | india news | Hindustan Times
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As Piyush Goyal takes charge of railway ministry, many challenges await him

The government is trying to revamp the transporter, but it continued to creak and groan under the weight of its own contradictions despite frequent changes at the helm.

india Updated: Sep 03, 2017 21:53 IST
Srinand Jha
BJP politician and member of Parliament Piyush Goyal takes oath during the swearing-in ceremony of new ministers at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi.
BJP politician and member of Parliament Piyush Goyal takes oath during the swearing-in ceremony of new ministers at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi.(REUTERS)

As the third railway minister in the NDA government since 2014, Piyush Goyal carries the onerous responsibility of achieving what his predecessors had aimed at but failed to attain — a turnaround of India’s largest public transporter.

He became the 10th railway minister in eight years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi shifted him from the power ministry on Saturday to head the world’s fourth-largest rail network that has 12,000 passenger trains and 7,000-odd stations, and carries 23 million passengers each day.

His predecessor Suresh Prabhu had offered to resign after a string of fatal crashes.

The government is trying to revamp the transporter, but it continued to creak and groan under the weight of its own contradictions despite frequent changes at the helm.

Networks are as clogged as they were decades ago, with 40% or 492 of 1,219 sections running at 100% or above-line capacity.

To-do list
  • Fixing systems, processes and guidelines to ensure safe running of trains
  • Tackling the unfinished task of restructuring the rail bureaucracy
  • Scaling up rail operations to meet aspirations of Gen-Next

The rolling stock such as locomotives, coaches or wagons remain antiquated and — with modernisation not happening at the desired pace — British-era maintenance systems are still practised.

The operating ratio, which estimates the organisation’s financial health by calculating every paisa spent against a rupee earned, has been trundling upwards. From 75.9% in 2007-08 to 92% in 2016-17.

Prabhu attempted to address several structural issues, laying out a roadmap of Rs 8.5 lakh crore over the next five years. Allocations and delivery schedules for infrastructure creation such as track renewals, electrification or signalling had been enhanced too. A sustained effort had been put to improve passenger services.

It can, however, be argued that the efforts in the past two years to scale up railway operations came at the cost of weakening established systems and processes.

For instance, Prabhu’s decision to elevate an Indian Railways Stores Service cadre officer as the chairman of the Railway Board and awarding him a two-year extension after retirement had sent ripples in the bureaucracy.

The new minister will have more than a handful on his dashboard.

Re-energising the morale of the 13.5 lakh employees will be just one of the tasks he will need to tackle.

Goyal will have to finish incomplete tasks of restructuring the bureaucracy and scale up operations to meet people’s aspirations, especially the new-generation middle-class.

Besides, he will have to fix systems, processes and guidelines to ensure trains run safely.

More than 650 people have lost their lives in 346 train disasters on Prabhu’s watch since November 2014.

Prabhu chose to resign after about 20 people died when 13 coaches of the Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express derailed in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district this August, and over 70 passengers were injured as 10 coaches of the Kaifiyat Express bound for New Delhi jumped tracks after colliding with a dumper truck in Auraiya in the same state.