New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants the Indian Railways to think out-of-the-box to leverage its tourism potential, particularly with focus on religious tourism, ThePrint has learnt.
PM Modi also wants the Railways to charge customers for using Wi-Fi on trains and platforms, among other things.
Modi has suggested that railways could consider starting a tourist train from Patna Sahib to Amritsar Sahib, which is the Golden Temple, with “on board devotional activities such as Guru/Shabad kirtan, langar, etc”.
“Similar trains may be considered to connect other thematic religious destinations. For instance, connecting holy places for the Krishna devotees/Vaishnavites,” reads the minutes of the meeting chaired by Modi during a presentation on five-year vision document by two sectoral groups on 21 December last year.
The minutes were shared by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with the two groups — on infrastructure, rural and agriculture — in the last week of January.
As many as 10 sectoral groups of secretaries were constituted in June 2019 to come up with transformative ideas for the next five years for each sector/ministry/departments with annual sub-plans, timelines and milestones.
“It’s a novel idea to run trains catering to religious tourists on specific routes, considering that a large number of pilgrims travel by trains all the time. It can be a revenue earner for the railways,” a senior government official, who does not want to be named, told ThePrint.
ThePrint contacted two railway ministry officials, but they didn’t respond at the time of publishing this report.
Railways could charge for Wi-Fi, beddings: PM
The Prime Minister has also stressed on the need for Railways to mobilise additional sources of revenue.
“They (Railways) could charge for Wi-Fi, beddings, vacant space at platforms, etc,” reads the minutes of the meeting.
The PM’s observation that Railways need to “mobilise additional sources of revenue” is not without reason.
The Railways operating ratio (OR) — the amount of money spent to earn each rupee — for the 2019-20 fiscal has been fixed at 97.4 per cent. In other words, the national transporter will be spending 97.4 paise to earn every rupee in the current fiscal year.
The OR for 2020-21 has been placed at 96.2 per cent.
Revenue from freight, the main source of earning for Railways, is also declining.
PM suggests utilising unused railway land for solar power
Another suggestion that came from the PM during the 21 December meeting was to use unutilised railway land to generate solar power.
The PM had observed that Railways have large tracts of spare land, which may be utilised for generating solar power by laying solar panels.
“This has huge potential. Railways can even sell solar power by connecting such facilities with grids,” according to the minutes.
The PM also suggested that sectors like Railways and roads could work at having “hybrid systems” where combination of rail and road transports may be explored for freight transportation.
“Respective ministries in the sectoral groups will now go through the PM’s observations and see if they can be incorporated,” said the government official quoted above.
The official added that Railways is working on the PM’s ideas.