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Even Rajdhani was criticised, bullet train will spur economy , says Piyush Goyal

Piyush Goyal, Union Minister for Railways and Coal speaks about the performance of railways as the government marks its fourth year

india Updated: Jun 13, 2018 08:31 IST
Kumar Uttam and Prashant Jha
Kumar Uttam and Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Piyush Goyal,Bullet Train,Indian Railways
Union Minister of railways and Coal Piyush Goyal in New Delhi, India.(HT File Photo)

Piyush Goyal is the Union Minister for Railways and Coal, holding the additional charge of Finance and Corporate Affairs. He is widely viewed as one of the most important policy minds in the government. Goyal spoke to Kumar Uttam and Prashant Jha about the performance of railways as the government marks its fourth year. Edited excerpts:

The operating ratio of railways is projected to be at over 98% for last year. Does it indicate poor health of the Railways?

It’s logical with a Rs 22,000 crore additional burden on account of the seventh pay commission. We are adding 12.5% straight away to cost - 12.5% of your topline.

That (operating ratio) was bound to deteriorate, but we are working towards efficiency measures and quite confident that better purchasing, better focus on capacity utilization will bring us back on track. And we are also looking at significant investment to improve average speed, increase capacity, complete dedicated freight corridors in time. I am trying to see how we can by 2025 double the revenues of the railways.

Will diesel prices and additional hiring not put additional burden on resources?

Those are operational requirements. Certainly there will be a cost (of hiring), but many people retire as well, lowering the cost.

The revenue excess, money left with the railways after meeting all its expenditure, too has dipped.

As I said, it was because of the Seventh pay commission. Before that, in one year in 2015-16, coal freight had fallen significantly, because we did the rationalisation of coal linkages. Earlier, coal was going up and down. It used to reach Chhattisgarh from the port, then was transported to Kandla. Because of all this rationalisation, there was a dip of about Rs 4-5,000 crore in coal freight.

Has there been a trade-off between punctuality and safety?

Safety will obviously have the prime focus for us, and that has caused us some punctuality issues.

Track renewal has been expedited, and we did 4,400 kilometers last year. Also, infrastructure creation at this breakneck speed entails a lot of blockages of the traffic. To do electrification of 4,100 km, you will have to face blockages. And this does not happen at one place. It is done in small patches. All of these take a toll on punctuality. 22,000 trains have to move daily.

Why are your major infrastructure projects slow?

You don’t have details. There is huge progress. Only 20% contracts of the dedicated freight corridors were awarded till 2014, today, except the PPP, nearly 95-96% contracts have been awarded.

It must have reach 100% by now. Don’t you see these changes? The track renewal used to be 200-225 km every month earlier. After November it is 476, 576 and 640 kms per month. It’s a three-time increase. 610 km of electrification was done in 2013-14, it is 4087 km in 2017-18. It is seven times growth.

How do you plan to monetise Railway’s land resources?

We tried to monetise land, but the market was slow. And we used to give 45-year lease.

Sub-mortgage and sub-lease was not allowed. We are now going to the cabinet, to allow sub-contracts, sub-lease and 99-years lease. We have to segregate the aspect of working with railways and monetising land. Suppose you are a real estate player, you hesitate in working with railways fearing who will deal with the railway laws, design problems. We are doing it through EPC contract, so that we get high value through monetisation. So his headache is gone.

Do you want to move out of non core business? Such as Like running school hospital etc.

The 13 lakh employees are like our family. They work in remote areas. If someone is appointed in Jhumri Tilaiya or Gomia or some remote place in Andhra Pradesh, their kids also have the right to study in good schools. The parents of such employees get good medical facility, it is their right.

They are also serving the nation. now if they do not get these facility they will run towards the city. They will put sifarish here for positing in city.

Is there then a tension between welfare and efficiency then?

This helps us to be more efficient. People are stationed there, working there, living there and they are confident about good services and facilities for their children and parents; then their efficiency improves. And in the entire Rs 2 lakh crore budget of the railways, this is very small.

Do you propose to explore more routes for bullet trains other than Ahmedabad-Mumbai?

Which portion is to be taken, the issue of land availability and funds will have to be factored into to plan. But when modern technology comes into the country, it will also help ‘make in India’ because of the sheer volume of work.

The areas where bullet trains will go will see economic activity, economic corridors will come up. It is a very limited definition that it is taking 1 lakh crore for bullet train. An entire area is being developed. It is safe, has 99.9% punctuality. One the one hand we want international level facility, but when you bring them you are criticised. Even Rajdhani was criticised.

First Published: Jun 13, 2018 07:42 IST