Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu tabled a white paper before presenting the budget on Thursday. The paper delineates the challenges before the Railways — how it is “perched on a precipice but is capable of flying off and attaining great heights.” A plan for the ‘railways of tomorrow’ has been outlined.
The organisation has suffered from considerable under-investment during the last several years, said Mr. Prabhu in the paper. As a consequence, capacity augmentation has suffered and so has the quality of service. Resources have been insufficient for improving customer satisfaction and introducing technological improvements. Investments in safety have also been insufficient.
“This is a vicious circle which I desire to convert into a virtuous circle by bringing in greater investments which will generate higher revenues and better service delivery,” he explained.
“I am confident that a clear direction, targeted investments and well-defined priorities can make the organisation grow by leaps and bounds,” said Mr. Prabhu. The status paper is the first in a series of three documents. The budget, being the second, lays down a five-year action plan of the Ministry in bringing about a turnaround. Finally, during the course of the current year, Indian Railways will bring out a Vision 2030 document which will contain a blueprint of the long-term development.
Despite its problems, Indian Railways is not down and out; it is the only organisation that can meet its wage bill, pensions and working expenses in entirety, Mr. Prabhu said in the paper.
He proposed a paradigm change with faster trains, swanky stations and skilled staff and flagged areas in need of ‘urgent attention’ such as cleanliness, punctuality of services, safety, terminal quality, capacity of trains, food quality, passenger security and ease of booking tickets.
The five-year plan is to undertake measures to ensure delivering safe and punctual services, increasing average speed by 50 per cent and increasing loading to 1.5 billion tonnes.
Former Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee had presented a White Paper in 2009.