Former minister for Railways Dinesh Trivedi speaks exclusively to rediff.com on a day when the Railway Budget will be presented in Parliament.
Trivedi speaks about the state of the Indian Railways, the challenges ahead and its pan-Indian identity.
In India, you cannot separate Ganga from the country. As you cannot imagine India without the Himalayas, similarly, it is not possible to think of India without the Indian Railways.
It has the capacity to be a growth engine for not just India but the world.
I was Railway minister for ten months; I don’t miss the ministry, but I feel really sorry for the Railways.
It’s an orphan seeking people’s attention.
The Indian Railways is not about giving train routes to Bihar or Punjab or West Bengal. The Railways can’t be seen in isolation nor can you merely treat it as a department. The Indian Railways is about pan-Indian identity.
Indian Railways is the emotional link that binds India.
Minister of Railways Pawan Kumar Bansal will present the rail budget on Tuesday. He is a well-meaning man and I wish him well.
The Railway budget is not an ordinary piece of paper. One must have a deep commitment for the ministry. Railway is the name of the emotion.
As a railway minister one should have the “feeling” for every Indian that travels in the train. And, as the leader of Indian Railways our prime duty is the safety of every single musafir.
I think safety is the main issue that I would like to see being address in the budget. The big picture must be to see that there is not a single death on tracks.
The Railways family
I would like to see the ethos of the Indian Railways being respected and preserved.
Indian Railways is a big family. It has the best work force. A few decades back, many brilliant IIT graduates used to join the Railways. Now they are deserting it. I think it’s time we preserve the ethos that has made the "Indian railway work force" so efficient. I give lot of importance to the work culture in the Railways and the idea of it as a huge family should be enhanced.
I feel the concept of a family is shattering. We must not allow it to break. We must take care of human resource of the Railways and develop it.
After people, comes money. It’s very important to ensure that the Indian Railways reduces it operating ratio. Right now we invest Rs 90 to 96 to earn Rs 100. This is just not viable. I tried to bring the operational ratio to 80 but we must bring it down to 74; that was my real aim. What’s the point of increasing capital cost and not earning decent money to plough back?
It’s so wrong to plan for just one year in such services. The Railways plan, by its very nature, has to be for ten years. When I was rail minister I got some 5,800 plus requests to start new trains or re-route trains from our MPs. But we can’t move an inch without thinking of the bottom-line of our finances.
Let states run suburban rails
I am of the opinion that the Indian Railways business is to run long route services.
It has to be the big player with bigger plans. Local trains, inter-city services or the suburban trains can be better handled by cities or by the states. It will synergise the other modes of transport as the city planners like.
If the city bus charges Rs 25 on a certain route, the local train can’t charge Rs 2 for the same distance. It will raise the load on the Railways which will be difficult to handle. The modification of rates of local trains should be a dynamic function. The price has to be adjustable to competitive alternate services. If the bus service and rail services are competing, then Railways will acquire speed and will be safer too. I had talked to many chief ministers and they had welcomed the idea. Let the Indian Railways have big dreams, big plans and big budgets.
I think it’s imperative that the Railways function as the country’s strategic asset. I am all for better rail lines all over the Indian border. We must reach faster to the Indian borders. We should have rail networks so that we ensure mobility in an emergency. Indian Railways must invest in building rail infrastructure on Indian borders. The nation’s safety is above all.
As told to Sheela Bhatt