ON THE FU­TURE OF THE RAIL­WAYS

In­dian Rail­ways, the life­line of the na­tion, is feel­ing fresh and re­ju­ve­nated. With tremen­dous em­pha­sis on con­sol­i­da­tion of the ex­ist­ing net­work and growth in in­fra­struc­ture, and sin­gle minded fo­cus on re­forms, the life­line of the na­tion is per­haps on the

Gfiles - - FRONT PAGE - (The writer is Chair­man of the In­dian Rail­way Board)

WORK­ING in the Modi govern­ment is def­i­nitely a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. There are no un­due pres­sures or threats, no ex­pec­ta­tions of any­thing other than work and no re­quests to fa­vor com­pa­nies or in­di­vid­u­als. On the other hand, there is tremen­dous pre­mium on in­tegrity and pres­sure on de­liv­er­ance and also high ex­pec­ta­tions to­wards meet­ing tar­gets re­lat­ing to in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment. Clearly the fo­cus is on de­liv­ery, not frills and this has in­deed been a wel­come change – like a whiff of fresh air. Cer­tainly this is not the way the sys­tem has been con­duct­ing it­self in the past in this coun­try, yet it ap­pears that the change in the way of work­ing is go­ing to be per­ma­nent, for hav­ing tasted it once, the na­tion and its con­stituents would not find com­fort in the ways of the past, re­gard­less of the po­lit­i­cal shade of gov­er­nance. In­dian Rail­ways, the life­line of the na­tion, is also feel­ing fresh and re­ju­ve­nated. With tremen­dous em­pha­sis on con­sol­i­da­tion of the ex­ist­ing net­work and growth in in­fra­struc­ture, and sin­gle minded fo­cus on re­forms, the life­line of the na­tion is per­haps on the right tra­jec­tory. Yet the fact re­mains that over the last few decades, ad­di­tion of many times more trains that in­fra­struc­ture can sup­port has led to a sce­nario where mas­sive con­ges­tion on the tracks crit­i­cally af­fects punc­tu­al­ity, main­te­nance and also safety, with the tragic ac­ci­dents in re­cent years bear­ing tes­ti­mony to the same. Since the fifties while the track in­fra­struc­ture has grown a measly 30 per cent, the traf­fic, both pas­sen­ger and freight has jumped over six­teen times and this widen­ing chasm has led to a sce­nario where there is a con­stant tus­sle be­tween those who op­er­ate and those who build and main­tain. And the al­most static pas­sen­ger tar­iff, for a long time now is af­fect­ing rail­way rev­enues with its at­ten­dant con­se­quences and symp­toms and im­pact­ing al­most all as­pects of work­ing of this great or­gan­i­sa­tion. A cor­po­rate, and rail­ways is def­i­nitely one, has to be run pro­fes­sion­ally with real con­cern for the bot­tom line if it is to suc­ceed and

suc­ceed it must for that is the only way it can truly serve the so­ci­ety for which it was built in the first place. De­spite all good in­ten­tions and many im­prove­ments, the mas­sive rail­way sys­tem has not been able to fully live up to the ex­pec­ta­tions of the masses – in­ad­e­quacy of line ca­pac­ity has led to short­ages of berths to travel on and freight trains to lift and trans­port what needs to be lifted and trans­ported. There is a per­pet­ual con­tra­dic­tion, whether the rail­ways is a sarkar (govern­ment) or vya­par (busi­ness) and there­fore the busi­ness of fast track de­liv­er­ance that en­tails quick de­ci­sion mak­ing has al­ways been an ex­er­cise that has been re­garded as a risky af­fair.

YES it is true that the in­her­ent con­tra­dic­tions that this or­gan­i­sa­tion finds it­self en­gulfed in, have emerged over decades. Com­plex­ity of pro­cesses has shrouded al­most every facet of the or­gan­i­sa­tion, the struc­tures have not kept pace with the chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment and needs, and cul­tur­ally, we have de­te­ri­o­rated.

De­spite all good in­ten­tions, the mas­sive rail­way sys­tem has not been able to truly live up to the ex­pec­ta­tions of the masses— in­ad­e­quacy of line ca­pac­ity has led to short­ages of berths to travel on and freight wag­ons to lift and trans­port goods

Sus­tained ad­ho­cism is the best way to pull or­gan­i­sa­tions down. An or­gan­i­sa­tion of over 13 lakh em­ploy­ees, cov­er­ing the en­tire na­tion has to have its fun­da­men­tals steeped in good gov­er­nance. Un­for­tu­nately, rail­ways was al­ways viewed as an or­gan­i­sa­tion that could be for­ever sus­tained with­out com­men­su­rate in­puts. Im­promptu de­ci­sions to in­crease pas­sen­ger trains taken reg­u­larly over long pe­ri­ods of time cou­pled with mea­sures like keep­ing the fares static have caused suf­fi­cient dam­age. De­spite mas­sive checks over ex­pen­di­ture, checks that have started af­fect­ing op­er­a­tions, staff wel­fare as well as safety, we have no sur­pluses from rev­enues, de­spite only to­ken pro­vi­sion­ing to­wards de­pre­ci­a­tion. And our ef­forts to­wards mon­e­ti­za­tion and gen­er­at­ing non fare rev­enues are yet to bear full fruit.

WE are also yet to fully over­come the com­plex­ity of pro­cesses that its com­plex bu­reau­cracy has taken to ridicu­lous ex­tremes with pro­cesses not de­signed for ef­fi­ciency but of­ten at times to guard turf for the sat­is­fac­tion of in­di­vid­u­als. And the per­pet­u­a­tion of a feu­dal cul­ture till very re­cently, when we came down with an iron hand. Where have we gone wrong? Per­haps the an­swer lies in the way we are struc­tured – a vya­par in the garb of sarkar, a vya­par that needs to be con­ducted with all the pre­cau­tions and rig­ma­role as­so­ci­ated with sarkar, a vya­par where the sanc­tity of pro­cesses over­ride that of de­liv­er­ance and a vya­par that has no clearly de­fined chief ex­ec­u­tive, a func­tion­al­ity con­sid­ered manda­tory for any cor­po­rate. With these fun­da­men­tal anom­alies per­fectly in place, while we can al­ways as­pire for and also achieve some mod­icum of ex­cel­lence, we may per­haps never be able to fully ex­ploit the po­ten­tial of this great mono­lith. Yet the rail­way sys­tem de­liv­ers al­most 22,000 trains a day car­ry­ing 23 mil­lion pas­sen­gers and over one mil­lion tonnes of freight across 8,000 sta­tions spread through the length and breadth of the coun­try, and that is why one of­ten refers to it as the “Great In­dian Rail­ways” for it touches the lives of the en­tire pop­u­lace, day in and day out. Its men (and women) keep the wheels mov­ing even un­der se­vere con­straints and of­ten ex­treme work­ing con­di­tions and that is what makes them stand tall over all other classes of govern­ment ser­vants. De­spite legacy is­sues, it is in­deed grat­i­fy­ing that the ef­forts of the re­cent past have started show­ing. Safety sce­nario has im­proved, clean­li­ness lev­els have climbed a few notches, pas­sen­ger ameni­ties have im­proved, new land­marks have been achieved in dou­bling, elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and other works, sta­tions

Un­for­tu­nately, rail­ways was al­ways viewed as an or­gan­i­sa­tion that could be for­ever sus­tained with­out com­men­su­rate in­puts. Im­promptu de­ci­sions to in­crease pas­sen­ger trains taken reg­u­larly over long pe­ri­ods of time cou­pled with mea­sures like keep­ing the fares static have caused suf­fi­cient dam­age

are be­ing beau­ti­fied, ded­i­cated freight cor­ri­dors have started emerg­ing, con­struc­tion of high speed line be­tween Ahmed­abad and Mum­bai is on track and the first ever rail univer­sity of the coun­try has started func­tion­ing. And this is not all; ma­jor strides are in the off­ing, in im­prov­ing se­cu­rity lev­els through use of video cam­eras, in giv­ing en­ter­tain­ment through pro­vi­sion of wi-fi at sta­tions and trains, in im­prov­ing safety through bet­ter sig­nalling, de­vel­op­ment of sta­tions through pri­vate par­tic­i­pa­tion, us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence for en­hanc­ing se­cu­rity, dig­i­tal mea­sures etc. The in­tent of the present govern­ment in im­prov­ing rail­ways so that it can live up to the ex­pec­ta­tions of an emerg­ing na­tion is fairly ev­i­dent. Rail­way Re­forms is a key fo­cus area of the govern­ment. Abo­li­tion of frills, match­ing ac­count­abil­ity with au­thor­ity, sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of sys­tems and pro­cesses, con­cern and sen­si­tiv­ity for the hu­man re­source, stress on in­tegrity and eth­i­cal con­duct are in­deed mea­sures that the na­tional car­rier is in­creas­ingly iden­ti­fy­ing it­self with, and why not – these are the cru­cial build­ing blocks of any great or­gan­i­sa­tion. Sen­si­tiv­ity to­wards our clients and em­ploy­ees alike, some­thing that we were rapidly los­ing sight of, is also fast get­ting re­stored. In­dian Rail­ways is in­deed one of the largest or­gan­i­sa­tions on planet earth. Sus­tained ef­forts over a long pe­riod of time with re­forms be­ing at its core, is the only way to make a last­ing dif­fer­ence. God will­ing, we shall. Jai Hind

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