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Big-bang reforms in 6-7 months: Suresh Prabhu

Times of India:  May 19, 2016

New Delhi:  Railway minister Suresh Prabhu said big-bang reforms, including restructuring of the Railway Board, will happen in 6-7 months. In an interview to Mahendra Singh, he said questions were being raised about the pace of project implementation because he was focusing on implementation unlike his predecessors who just made announcements. Excerpts:

There is a fall in railway passenger traffic, freight is also declining. Are you concerned?

Railways is losing high-end traffic to air and low-end passenger traffic to roads. We are trying to address it by expanding the network and launching more products (train services) like Humsafar, Tejas and Uday.

What do you have to say about slow pace of reforms?

Big bang reforms like restructuring of railway board, accounting reform and setting up of a regulator are in the works. All are in process and will become a reality in 6-7 months. Lot of things are happening in the background. As far as restructuring is concerned, the process for unification and rationalisation of cadres has been initiated. Railways will approach the cabinet soon as the process for merger of cadre involves UPSC. The next step will be creation of posts of member (passenger business) and member (freight).

The selection process for general managers and divisional railway managers is going to be changed. The ministry has written to the Appointments Committee of Cabinet.

A draft proposal for railway development authority, whose mandate was widened from just tariff regulator, has been prepared and suggestions have been invited from different stakeholders.

Many believe the pace of project implementation is slow.

Railways has seen the highest-ever increase in spending since independence. It saw 85% increase in capital expenditure. The time taken in tendering process has come down. In DLW Varanasi the processing time for procurement tender has come down from 500 days to 88 days. Now, the emphasis is on commissioning projects rather than completion. If the speed is slow, how will we achieve commissioning of 7 km of tracks every day which was 4.3 km per day in the last six years.

Two locomotive factories at Madhepura and Marhora, which were announced long ago, were approved and contracts awarded. In Madhepura, bhumi pujan was done. DFCC will be completed as per schedule in March 2019.

There is talk about implementation because we are not just announcing projects like other railway ministers in the past. We are also implementing projects on the ground. Once, former PM V P Singh told me a story about an MP who visited his constituency only once in five years. When Singh asked why, the MP said in this case there was only one complaint about not coming but if he visited often, there would be lots of complaints related to jobs, schemes etc.

What are the achievements of the rail ministry?

We have changed the track of railways' thinking. Railways is doing what it needs to do like laying of tracks, doubling and tripling of lines. We got detailed project reports prepared and gave approvals to 77 projects that were languishing for a long time.

Focus is also on customer satisfaction. Lot of improvement has been made. I am happy, but not satisfied. Lot still needs to be done. For the first time, railways started real time 24x7 public grievance system through Twitter. We are trying to provide assistance to passengers, but can't meet demands like starting new trains or laying new tracks.

We managed funding for railways. Private players have started showing interest. Projects worth around Rs 40,000 crore involving private sector are under implementation. For the first time, we were able to raise funds through extra budgetary supports.

We formed jointed ventures with states. This is not just cost sharing, it is a move towards cooperative federalism. Also, the allocation for states increased 2-3 times in case of states like Odisha.

I have initiated institutional changes in railways such as delegation of power and decentralization to infuse transparency. Regulator for the sector is in an advanced stage.

We have also started restructuring of railway board. Two new directorates, mobility and non-fare revenue, have been set up. Eight new multi-functional missions will be set up soon.

We have taken a lot of IT- related initiatives. TCS has been engaged for enterprise resource planning to integrate freight, passenger, human resources and administrative operations across the country. We have initiated accounting reforms which were pending since long.

Disclaimer: This information has been collected through secondary research and IBEF is not responsible for any errors in the same.