V K Gupta
Member (Engineering), Railway Board, Government of India
V K Gupta talks about the opportunities and challenges before the Indian Railways, and the measures thought about in the Railway Budget for making train journey a more pleasurable experience. Excerpts from an interview with Gautam Debroy of ENN
What are the thrust areas of the Railway Budget 2014-15?
Our first major thrust area in this rail budget is introduction and implementation of IT. Be it ticketing, project management or hospital management, technology is going to be the buzz word. Utilisation of proper IT technology will bring efficiency as well as transparency. We will also be using it in the procurement and parcel sector. The need of the hour is to bring in total change in the work culture of railways and delivery of railway services by adopting large scale 26 egov / egov.eletsonline.com / July 2014 integrated computerisation of major functions of the Indian Railways.
Second is the introduction of bullet trains, for which pilot project study is already on along the Mumbai-Ahmedabad sector. We are also going for semi-high speed trains. For this, two sections have already been identified and the trial is on.
Another focus area is bringing in private players. It may be achieved though FDI or through PPP projects. Wherever possible, we would like to have some extra money available for tackling the projects.
Apart from these, the other thrust areas are safety, passenger amenities with focus on food services and on-train cleanliness as well as resource mobilisation.
If we talk about safety, how do you propose to tackle it? Safety has always been an area of concern.
It has always been the endeavour of the Indian Railways to provide safety to the passengers. We are also planning to introduce self-closing doors in the coaches. In fact, pilot project is on for automatic door closing in mainline and sub-urban coaches. We are also working on the construction of railway overbridges (ROBs) and elimination of unmanned level crossings. We have also made a provision of Rs 1,785 crore for ROBs and road-under-bridges (RUBs). We are introducing more and more Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches, which are safer in case of an accident. We are spending more money this time round to make the railway journey much safer.
We will also be recruiting 4,000 women RPF constables in addition to the existing 7,000 in the railways. Coaches for ladies will be escorted as well as care will be taken for the ladies travelling alone. We are also providing mobile phones to the escorting RPF teams to help passengers in distress. We will also explore the possibility of building of boundary walls around stations through the PPP route.
You have not increased passenger fares. Are the existing fare rates good enough to make the ministry financially stable?
Sometimes people say the fares are very low, why don’t you increase? And, sometimes they say it’s too high, it should have been lower. The fact of the matter is that you pay more money when you come from home to the railway station, than what you spent for travelling to Allahabad from Delhi. Currently, the fares are quite low. In fact, we are trying to make the fare more rational.
I can tell you that financially, the railway ministry is not in poor health. We have hardly any liability, we have lakhs of crores of assets to pay salaries and pensions to the employees on time. We are also making provisions for pension funds and we will also pay dividends besides generating resources despite transporting passengers at very low rates.
Over a period of time, the railways have developed lots of new line projects, which are not remunerative. Now, where do we find the money for doing those unremunarative works? If such financial burdens were not there on us, we could have found more money for modernisation. We are also paying arrears of Rs. 7,000 crore following the implementation of the 6th Pay Commission recommendations. We have huge rail projects, which are not financially viable, though socially desirable. So, these are some of the factors that we have to keep in mind.
As your ministry is already working on the PPP model, any new thinking on that mode?
There has been a lot of talk about public private partnership for raising resources. The railways being a capital-intensive sector have not been successful so far in raising substantial resources through the PPP route. But bulk of our future projects will be financed through the PPP mode, including the high-speed trains, which require huge investments.
There seems special emphasis on the northeastern states in the budget? Your comments.
For the expansion of railways in the northeastern states, we have allocated sufficient funds for the projects in the region. There are 23 projects underway in the Northeast, of which 11 are national projects. For the year 2014-15, we have earmarked Rs. 5,116 crore for different projects in the region. This is 54 percent jump over allocations in the previous year.
There are law and order issues in the Northeast. There are not many local workers as well as local contractors. So, we have to manage such people from elsewhere. In spite of that work is going on. I hope in the next three years, all the projects will be completed.
We have also incorporated the northeastern states in the railways tourism sector. There is a huge untapped potential in the field of domestic tourism in the Northeast. We plan to take up eco-tourism and education tourism in the northeastern states.
If we talk about smart cities, how can your ministry help in this regard?
As far as railway is concerned, the immediate thing which comes to my mind is the high speed corridor, a corridor which will be a separate one. It will be joining the cities but not from the existing railway stations. Smart cities can come up along the high-speed train routes.
With the challenges posed by the steadily increasing urban population, a holistic approach to urban transport is required. A smooth and seamless inter-model access is essential to improve urban mobility and, therefore, a passengercentric focus will be given to urban transport infrastructure creation. We will coordinate with other transport-related ministries and urban bodies to develop optimal systems of integration of the railways with other transport modes.
In fact we have already started doing a study to explore possibility of enhancing the existing Indian Railways network in Bengaluru for meeting better connectivity needs of the city with its urban areas.