Mallikarjun Kharge on Wednesday took over as Railways Minister, becoming sixth minister to hold the portfolio in the last four years of the UPA II.
Shortly after taking charge of the ministry, the 70-year-old Congress veteran from Karnataka said he would first understand the working of the ministry and the issues at hand before deciding on his priorities.
“I will discuss the issues and then I will have to decide on priorities, Kharge said. The minister was guarded in his response, as his predecessor Pawan Kumar Bansal had to quit the ministry following a bribery scandal.
“Until I talk to the officers and discuss the issues, I will not comment,” the minister said of the roadmap his ministry will follow.
The minister will have a tough time heading the ministry whose operating ratio has been running close to 90 per cent. Some of the key projects like coach factories and ancillary units announced in the Budget are yet to take off. More important, the new minister has to fill up vacancies on the Railway Board, the highest decision-making body in the ministry.
The vacant seats include Member(staff) and Member (traffic) while the posts of Chairman and Financial Commissioner will too fall vacant as the incumbents are retiring on June 30.
The issue of constituting a rail tariff authority was put on the back burner after the bribery scandal hit the ministry. The Prime Minister’s Office has already set a deadline for operationalising the authority, but that deadline has lapsed.
Kharge was allotted the Ministry of Railways in a Cabinet reshuffle on Monday. He was Union Minister of Labour and Employment. He was also romoured to become the Chief Minister of Karnataka.
After the coveted post went to Siddaramaiah, he was allotted the high-profile railways portfolio.
A law graduate, Kharge was an MLA in Karnataka for nine terms from 1972 to 2009. In 2009, he was elected to the Lok Sabha and allotted the Labour and Employment portfolio. Kharge has won 10 consecutive elections.