New Delhi: When railway minister Suresh Prabhu set up two new directorates within his ministry in May, this wasn’t what he had in mind.
Turf battles have erupted and delayed important railway projects, with the directorates charged with raising non-fare revenue and increasing train speeds working at cross-purposes, multiple officials said.
According to a railway board member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, a lot of projects are being delayed because of “overlapping of work" between old and new directorates. Railways has 42 directorates in all.
“None of the directorates wants to listen to the others and a tug-of-war has started in the rail ministry as the railway minister has asked all directorates to show revenue-based results," the board member said, adding the railway board is finding it difficult to resolve the situation.
Railway Board chairman A.K. Mittal, however, said there is no such tug-of-war. “The jurisdictions are well-defined and no overlapping is being faced. Coordination and consultation is ensured wherever required," he said.
A project to redevelop 400 railway stations has been caught in the crossfire. The non-fare revenue directorate wants to give advertising rights at stations to a third party claiming Railways can earn up to ₹ 10,000 crore via this method. However, the land and amenities directorate responsible for allotting station re-development work says if the advertising component is removed from the project, developers will be discouraged and the project will see a setback.
A land and amenities directorate official said on condition of anonymity, “Some infrastructure developers have threatened to drop out from the station redevelopment project if they are not given advertising rights, because they won’t be able to recover the investment from just exploiting the vacant space given to them. There has to be some additional source of income for such a big investment. Our estimate was revenue potential of around ₹ 500-600 crore from advertising rights, but it comes with the advantage of station development."
He added that an infrastructure developer is likely to factor in the aesthetics of where to display ads to maintain the overall look of the station. An entity solely focused on maximising ad revenue won’t, he said.
Another problem area is the idea of land monetization floated by the railway minister and now being implemented by the non-fare revenue directorate. The legal department has pointed out that railway land cannot be leased out for more than 45 years. The department states that a lease of 90 years or more is tantamount to a sale, and that Indian Railways cannot sell its land. However, the non-fare revenue directorate believes increasing the tenure of the lease is the best way to raise revenue for pending projects.
The non-fare revenue directorate’s data monetization project has also run into problems, with questions being raised around privacy. “During the time of booking tickets, people are asked for ID proof which can be PAN card, driver’s licence, Aadhar number or election card. A section of railway officials have expressed concerns on whether these details can be shared with a third party," said a railway ministry official on condition of anonymity. He added that as a government department, “Indian Railways has to show some kind of discretion. Someone’s obsession with non-fare revenue cannot resolve financial crisis of railways."
Meanwhile, the mobility directorate is discovering that there is a significant overlap between its responsibilities and those of the traffic directorate.
The mobility directorate’s focus is on identifying and prioritising corridors where speeds can be raised, setting timetables for freight trains, eliminating bottlenecks, monitoring the progress of capacity enhancement works, and tackling speed restrictions, asset failures and rolling stock issues which affect service speeds.
An official from the traffic directorate said on condition of anonymity, “The biggest issue cropping up between us is speed and laying of tracks. We know that it is very difficult to increase speed on Indian railway tracks even by 5-10 km/hour every year because of several reasons including there being no proper access-control. Despite all these facts, if you form a directorate to do this without correcting and investing in the infrastructure, it’s just a waste of time."