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Pranjal Sharma

Pranjal Sharma has been analysing, commenting and writing on economic and development policy in India for 25 years. He has worked in print, TV and digital media in leadership positions and guided teams to interpret economic change and India’s engagement with the world

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Politics Of Policy | An Effort For Efficiency

Forget the debate on passenger fares. Minister Suresh Prabhu is trying to transform Indian Railways into an efficient, effective and exciting organisation

Photo Credit : Sanjay Sakaria

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Turning around a multi-billion dollar organization is tough, takes time and usually doesn't reward the person who succeeds. But Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has been trying to do exactly this since he took charge in November 2014.

Indian Railways serves a billion people but is nurtured by virtually none. Most ministers, local governments, passengers and its own employees treat it shabbily but expect the world from it.

Prabhu is trying to change the way railways is managed in simple, fundamental and futuristic ways.

Two big causes of inefficiency and corruption are procurement and recruitment. Prabhu is using technology to deploy electronic tenders and online hiring. He has devolved many responsibilities to the level of general managers so that rapid decision making can occur. Contract management will be done in a paperless manner. In a powerful but basic decision, he has taken the step of ensuring that one officer is accountable for each train. This one officer will find it tough to blame others for problems. Railway stations don't have one officer in charge either. Many different departments run a station and therefore there is no ownership of how it is managed.

Prabhu has accepted many recommendations of the Bibek Debroy Panel that had made transformative suggestions. One is these was to launch suburban lines in partnership with state governments in the form of a joint venture. This ensures the creation of a corporate entity that forces state government to be responsible for the suburban lines. Equally importantly, it does not add to the Railway bureaucracy by the creation of new divisions and departments.

Previous Railway Ministers enjoyed the applause generated by announcement of new projects. When the applause died, so did the will to executive them. Prabhu is aiming to implement projects, both pending and new. He has promised that commissioning of broad gauge lines will increase from 7 km per day now to 13 km in 2017-18 and to 19 km in 2018-19. This will creates jobs for thousands across the country while expanding the track network. The Diamond quadrilateral railway corridor projects to connect east with west and north with south is as visionary as the Golden Quadrilateral project of Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Smaller initiatives of ticket vending machines, use of bar codes, hand held scanners will bring railways up to speed with the rest of the transport world. Indian Railways is saving money by procuring power directly at competitive rates while planning to use solar for the future. About 400 stations will be developed with private partnership.

Nav Arjan, Nav Manak, Nav Rachna are the three pillars of change. They mean new revenues; new parameters and new structures define the effort of Prabhu.

What he has identified is less than what is required to turn around Railways. It is however a significant effort to transform an organization than must be an integral contributor to India's competitiveness.


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