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Who is India's Railway Minister?

Last updated on: February 26, 2013 10:43 IST

Who is India's Railway Minister?

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Jyoti Mukul in New Delhi

Pawan Kumar Bansal prefers to maintain a low profile and people who work with him say the minister is "very courteous".

To be a junior minister with P Chidambaram can be tough; but, somehow, Pawan Kumar Bansal had his way when as a minister of state in the ministry of finance he would insist on answering some questions in Parliament and speaking on important legislations under discussion.

The fact that both the ministers are lawyers probably helped. But more than anything else, people who have worked with Bansal say he is "hardworking and correct", traits that stood him in good stead whenever required.

With Bansal at Rail Bhawan and Chidambaram back in the North Block, putting the Railways back on track now appears a logical conclusion.

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Image: Pawan Kumar Bansal.

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Before announcing the recent fare increase, Bansal had a couple of meetings, including one with Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman, Planning Commission, who had succeeded in pushing a fare increase with Dinesh Trivedi last year, but the Trinamool Congress leader had to quit the government, having invited the ire of party chief Mamata Banerjee.

For Bansal, the task was probably simpler. TMC walked out of the government in September and the Congress had the railway ministry back with it after nearly 18 years. By October, Bansal took the baton from CP Joshi, the road minister, who had been temporarily handed over the ministry.

What worked in Bansal's favour was not only his closeness to 10 Janpath, but also his inclination to take politics out of economics.

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Image: Union Minister for Railways, Pawan Kumar Bansal discussions the upgradation plan of the Chandigarh Railway Station.
Photographs: Courtesy, sarkaritel.com.
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Within a month of his assuming office, he told the media that he wanted to "depoliticise" passenger fares. And this he has successfully managed to do by announcing a fare increase ahead of next month's budget.

The wisdom of having a Railway Budget has long been questioned; its presentation provided a political opportunity to successive rail ministers. Bansal, ironically, has also been the parliamentary affairs minister for the UPA government since 2008. 

When the UPA government came to power in 2009 for the second time, he was elevated to the Cabinet rank. Even after being given the high-profile railway ministry last November, Bansal has retained the parliamentary affairs portfolio, sharing it with Kamal Nath, another Congress veteran.


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Image: Union Minister for Railways, Pawan Kumar Bansal addressing a Press Conference.
Photographs: Courtesy, sarkaritel.com.
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The minister's sense of righteousness has also helped him in many ways.

"Once there was an issue involving a businessman who had some issues with the ministry of finance, but after a briefing from a senior official, the minister cross-checked and refused to push his case further," recounted one official.

A member of Parliament from Chandigarh, Bansal prefers to maintain a low profile and people who work with him say the minister is "very courteous". 

He not only sent acknowledgements for all the congratulatory messages that came to him when he assumed charge at the railway ministry, but was also particular about signing all the New Year greetings that he sent out.

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Image: Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal with Ministers of State for Railways, K.J. Surya Prakash Reddy, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Chairman, Railway Board, Vinay Mittal.
Photographs: Courtesy, PIB.
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With the fare increase, the next big task for the minister will be to put a tariff authority in place. The authority is expected to analyse the gap between input cost and the cost charged to the passenger for the service.

The tariff ratio in India is around 0.32, whereas in China it is around 1.32. The railways are earning 32 paisa from passenger for a rupee earned from freight.

While the Rs 6,600 crore additional income from the steep increase in passenger fares may just be a drop in the ocean for the Railways, what Bansal has managed is nothing short of a revolution.

He has given the railways a commercial identity by allowing it to fix its user charges independent of political considerations.


Image: Pawan Kumar Bansal.
Photographs: Courtesy, PIB.
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