BW Businessworld

“Railways To Help Create 1.5 Cr Jobs In 5 Years”

In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, Union Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu outlines his priorities, even as he talks about the job potential of the sector

Photo Credit : PTI,

Union Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu is a man in a hurry. One of the forward-looking Ministers in the Narendra Modi Cabinet, he is busy with modernising the mammoth Indian Railways. In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld’s Suman K Jha, he outlines his priorities, even as he talks about the job potential of the sector.


When it comes to interface with masses, no one does it like you do on Twitter, for passengers in distress. How do you manage it?
This is one of the largest mass communication and contact programmes. We receive several complaints a day. People complained earlier that ‘we cannot complain’. We have made it into a complete system and taken it into a new level where we call it ‘management information system’. If the complaints are coming from some quarters there has to be a reason. Either the system is wrong or the person. If the system is wrong we have to change the system and if the person is wrong we have to take some action, so we do both. The result of which is that number of complaints has increased, and the rate of redressal has increased dramatically. Every day the number of medical emergencies that we attend is huge. Just imagine two years ago, not even a single medical emergency was attended. They used to say ‘this is your problem’. This is a part of our commitment because not a single organisation can survive unless we address the complaints of the people.

You are one the senior cabinet ministers of the government. I’ll come to the railways but what is the achievement of the government?

The government has come out of several programmes and schemes getting implemented. Each scheme has a purpose to it. Make in India is to change the GDP profile. Digital India is to take the new generation to digital initiative. We launched a survey of Swachh Bharat today which is going to increase tourism in India. Everything we are doing has a purpose to it. This will create a New India and we have set ourselves a very difficult and ambitious target of 2022 when India will achieve 75 years of Independence. We are working on all these initiatives.

In railways, we have a very ambitious plan of Rs 8,52,000 crores which is already there and all of it can be used.

We are also working on several initatives which will make railways contributing significantly to the GDP of India. I have got a preliminary report from the National Issues of Public Finance and Policy. According to the preliminary estimate, we will be creating one and a half crore plus jobs only in the railways in the next 5 years because of the initiative in construction and other places. You can imagine the contribution of the railways. Every rupee spent on railways will have a six-time spinoff effect more on the economy as a whole. So you can imagine the cascading effect.

Railway budget is part of the Union budget, we have Rail Development Authority (RDA) for determining fares. How has that affected the dynamics of running the department?
There is no change in the autonomy and the decision making process of the railways. The only change that has happened is that I don’t present the railway budget which is merged with the main budget. So Mr. Arun Jaitley presents the budget with the railway budget. That’s the only change.

Would it be fair to say that passenger safety is the foremost concern for the department today?

It is one of the concerns which are unfortunately as a result of neglect. We have 16 percent of the network which handles 60 percent of traffic. There are some networks which operate on more than 100 percent capacity. How can you work when you have a 100 percent capacity? We have to work on the entire rethinking of the railways. In the last two and a half years we have sanctioned 16500 kms of doubling, tripling which was 20000+ in the last 70 years -- that is what we have done in two and a half years. Only 42% of the lines are electrified, all broad gauge lines will be electrified in the next five years. All meter gauges will be converted into broad gauge. This has been sanctioned. We have created Rs 1 lakh crore safety fund. We have already provided Rs 10 thousand crore for track renewal this year without safety fund. We are buying high-end track maintenance machine which will detect cracks very early. 40000 coaches are today vulnerable because they are not being subjected to rigorous running of the track, so those 40000 we are changing with a retrofitting in the next 5 years.

Reports suggest that the operating ratio last fiscal was one of the worst in 16 years. What is the department doing about it?

Operating ratio is very rudely calculated. It is simple, no organisation in the world calculates like this -- total income minus total revenue. This year this was Rs 36000 crores of additional liability because of salaries. There is pension, bonus that has another few thousand crores. Then there is Rs 32000 crores of public service obligation, if you take all of this is about Rs 70-80 thousand crores. If you take operating ratio, which is, if take all this reimbursement happens properly the operating ratio will be less than 50, so it is very unfair to calculate because this one year suddenly there has been a Pay Commission, there has been a Bonus Act which was amended so that the bonus ceiling was removed.

The rate at which you are getting more passengers is not happening at the rate at which you would like to have. So does it worry you?

No, one of things in fact, first time after 5 years we have a net addition to passengers. Last 5 years we were losing passenger number, for the first time we have been able to net number to passengers.

What is the progress on the bullet train front sir?
A. It will be 2023, it will start, we are already working with the timeline set, it is already happening. When the Prime Minister of Japan will come here, the entire process will get another push.

And what about the dedicated freight corridor?
A. 2019, we are trying to complete it. In last 6 years what tenders were given we have done in 6 months. So therefore now more or less all tenders are given that acquisition has happened so we will try to take it to the next level.

You were the most forward-looking ministers that the cabinet has and the railways is also known as a social service, so you see it as more of a social cause or market driven entity?
This is the problem of the railways that some people wanted it to be commercial organisation so it must make enough profit, some other see it as a social organisation so you should not worry about the profit. So this is the problem. However, multiple expectations from the same organisation which are in conflict with each other is the problem of the railways. So people want it to be run as a social organisation so expectations are that we should get seven-star meals at no extra cost; we should run at superfast speed but will not pay for it because it is the railways, and so on. They will pay several times more for the bus but not for the railways.

On the other hand people expect that the railways that railways are large organisation, they make huge profits so that also you cannot have both at the same time. But first time therefore what I have done is I am modernising the railways with the resources which are raised outside of the budget, that is something which is happening for the first time, the capital expenditure of the railways in the last two and a half years budgeted is Rs 3 lakh 50 thousand crores which used to be annually only about Rs 40000 crores. So you can imagine how much more we are investing into the railways and this will show off in the next few years’ time when you will see a very revitalised like organisation.

You have been power minister, railway minister, you have handled other ministries. Which has been more fulfilling?
All functions are very important, everything is enjoyable; this is my ninth cabinet position so therefore all responsibilities are important.

What are the leadership lessons once can learn from PM Modi?
PM Modi is a great leader, in fact we are lucky to have a leader as Prime Minister for the country. We are fortunate to have a leader like him.

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