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How Suresh Prabhu got the Railways back on track

By Arun Kumar Das
December 28, 2014 22:16 IST
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The national transporter is also mulling a hike in passenger fares in the Rail Budget next year to tide over the loss in passenger sector

Reeling under cash and staff crunch, Railways saw reform-oriented Suresh Prabhu taking over charge of the ministry at the fag end of the year and seeking innovate ideas and futuristic vision to bail out the ailing PSU behemoth.

Rising number of deaths on railway tracks, fall in passenger bookings, unhygienic platforms and tracks and poor standard of food are some other issues which kept railways in the news.

The national transporter is also mulling a hike in passenger fares in the Rail Budget next year to tide over the loss in passenger sector.

During the year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the inaugural train from Katra in Jammu, the base camp for Vaishnodevi shrine.

Expressing serious concern over the Railways' financial health, Prabhu said it is "too close for comfort" and highlighted the urgent need for massive investment to the tune of Rs 6-8 lakh crore to complete ongoing projects for meeting the safety requirement and upgrade in the overburdened rail infrastructure.

Former Karnataka Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda, who had assumed charge as Modi government's first Railway Minister, however, failed to make the right start though remaining at the seat for six months, necessitating a replacement at the crucial ministry.

While the cross-subsidisation in passenger sector is hovering around Rs 26,000 crore (Rs 260 billion), there is a fall in passenger bookings, causing concern for railway financial management.

Passenger bookings came down during April-November by 1.43 per cent as compared to the corresponding period last year.

The fuel adjustment component-linked tariff revision due in December will be now effected in the Rail Budget in February and there is a need for upward revision as energy cost has gone up by over 4 per cent in the recent months.

Hinting at the possibility of raising train fares to meet the growing expenses, Prabhu has maintained "passenger service should be improved before increasing the fares. Safety cannot be compromised. There is a need for big investment. Some burden has to be shared by people".

Right from the word go, Prabhu set the ball rolling for bringing transparency in the system and decided that no tendering-related files will come to him and delegated those powers to general managers and officers below them. He also announced reward for railway officers for showing results.

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Arun Kumar Das in New Delhi
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