Like in China, railways can help transform India and the Modi government has doubled the pace of execution of electrification, commissioning new lines, among others, the Railways Minister said at OTC.
Warped policy-making and decades of neglect saw India investing more in roadways than railways resulting in the latter losing market share to road transport and airlines, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu has said. But the NDA-2 government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to change this and is making huge investments in the sector, he said.
“We’re the first government to increase the investment in railways,” Prabhu said at ‘Off The Cuff’, speaking to ThePrint Editor-In-Chief Shekhar Gupta and Contributing Editor Mahrukh Inayet. The event was held in New Delhi on Thursday.
Modi, the minister said, believes the railways can transform India like in China and told Prabhu so when he invited him to join the government in November 2014. “The only thing the prime minister told me when he invited me to join was railways can transform India over a period of time. Let’s shed populism and work on real issues,” Prabhu said. Driven by the Prime Minister’s keen interest in the railways, this government has doubled the pace of execution of electrification, commissioning new lines, among others, in the last three years. While railways has lost its market share, the government is working to regain it, he said.
Prabhu was candid as he talked about issues that have made the railways a less preferred mode of transport. He acknowledged that the lack of cleanliness in train toilets is a major problem. The Prime Minister’s “Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan” was beginning to make a difference here as it has brought the issue of cleanliness into the mainstream.
“Cleanliness, as the saying goes, is close to godliness, and we have forgotten both,” he said, adding that the ministry has already installed 35,000 bio-toilets this year – a mechanised toilet system which prevents human waste from being discharged onto railway tracks.
Calling the issue of the safety of women travelling by trains a “major issue”, the minister said that the government is trying to put CCTVs in compartments and on platforms, and has started centralised monitoring in some areas through which any mischief or assault can be tracked.
Speaking at length on the overlap between railways and strategic interests, Prabhu said that expanding the reach of railways across borders is not only significant from the perspective of IRR (internal rate of return) or ERR (economic rate of return), but more importantly from that of SRR (strategic rate of return). It is for this reason, he said, that the government is committed to rail connectivity with neighbours such as Myanmar and Nepal, while it strengthens existing connectivity with Bangladesh.
Responding to a question from High Commissioner of Bangladesh to India, Syed Muazzem Ali, Prabhu said the line connecting Agartala to Akhoura in Bangladesh was being taken as a priority by New Delhi. The government was also aggressively pursuing broad gauge connectivity in the Northeast, Prabhu added.
The evening saw many notable guests in attendance, including renowned jurist Fali Nariman, former India head of HSBC Naina Lal Kidwai, former DGMO Lt. Gen. (Retd) S.S. Chahhal and Chairman and Editorial Director of Business Standard T.N. Ninan.
Sanya Dhingra is a Reporter at ThePrint. You can follow her on Twitter @DhingraSanya