Railways reforms stuck after a promising start
Initiatives such as appointment of a railway regulator and station redevelopment plans have made little progress
New Delhi: Reforms measures undertaken by the Indian Railways seem to have stopped in its tracks after covering good ground under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
The centre had taken several initiatives, including station re-development plans, increasing the share of non-fare revenue and installation of CCTV cameras at stations and on trains, besides approving the setting up of a railways regulator. However, for months the plans have remained on paper and have made little progress.
In April 2017, the Union cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had approved the setting up of the Rail Development Authority (RDA), which would primarily look into determining tariff, ensuring fair play and level playing field for stakeholder investment, setting efficiency and performance standards, and disseminating information.
According to the proposal the regulator, headed by a chairman and comprising three members, would have a five-year term, and was empowered to engage experts.
“The process of appointing a railway regulator was started last year and a committee was also formed to shortlist names for various posts. The file was sent to the PMO and we have been waiting for their response,” said a senior government official, requesting anonymity.
With the general elections scheduled for 2019, it is unlikely that names will be approved as train fares is a sensitive subject and impacts the masses, he added. Besides, various other railway projects mentioned in the Union budget have also been neglected of late.
In 2015, the then railways minister Suresh Prabhu had envisaged a ₹1 trillion plan to redevelop stations with world-class infrastructure by monetizing railway land. The project had brought cheers to the public as the programme would have benefited over 16 million passengers per day. However, due to policy flip-flops by the railways on issues such as the tenure for land lease, real estate development and bidding procedures kept private investors away.
The railways decision to increase its earnings through non-fare revenue, including advertisements on trains, railway bridges and other assets, and by offering digital content to passengers, also remained a non-starter. Prabhu had hoped to mop up revenues of over ₹15,000 crore in 10 years.
Even the railways tender for installation of CCTV cameras is drawing luke warm response. A senior railway official, who also did not wish to be identified, said: “Railways is in a state of policy paralysis. There is no clear direction and it is losing the time game.”
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