NEW DELHI: Handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to overhaul cash strapped railways, Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu in a record of sorts has set up seven committees in just two months of holding the portfolio to improve financial health, bringing transparency, revenue generation and re-structuring of Railways.
Prabhu, who was brought in November in place of Karnataka strongman SD Sadanada Gowda, has set the ball rolling ahead of the 2015 rail budget. Gowda had also constituted a committee in September. Of the total eight committees, four are headed by experts outside ministry like economist Bibek Debroy, former CAG Vinod Rai, former Delhi metro chief E Sreedharan and former secretary DK Mittal.
Trying to get funds for railways, the government earlier in the year allowed 100 percent FDI in railways which created a bit of controversy and PM had to finally clarify that government has no plans to privatise railways. The FDI in railways was strongly criticised by rail unions and government came out with specific sectors making it clear that operational part will remain with the state run transport. Prabhu also held an ‘Investors’ Meet’ to discuss various issues pertaining to private investment in rail sector.
One of the initial major decisions by government was increase in rail fare in June just before the railway budget on the pretext that it was mooted by UPA government as part of Fuel Adjustment Component (FAC) policy. The NDA government stayed away from reviewing rail fare due in December 2014 and an announcement is now expected in 2015.
The ministry, meanwhile, has been actively pursuing PM’s dream project of a diamond quadrilateral of high speed trains/bullet trains. China and Japan have already already offered their expertise in the sector. Another major decision the sector witnessed was to increase the speed of trains on nine key routes across the country and the first between Delhi-Agra will be flagged off soon.
What brought the good news was inauguration of long pending rail links to Jammu and Kashmir and northeast by prime minister himself thus sending a message that government will further improve rail connectivity in far off regions.
The ministry also stressed on improving passenger services and amenities. Emphasis was laid on use of IT tool to improve passenger services. Wi-Fi broadband services were launched on New Delhi and Bengaluru railways stations and trials have also started in few trains. Infotainment service to provide access to live TV to passengers was also launched in two Shatabdi trains.