Indian Railway- Claims or Dreams

I am reading these days two books related to the emerging India: ‘Planet India’ by Mira Kamdar, a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute, and ‘Billions of Entrepreneurs‘ by Tarun Khanna, the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School in USA. Both in their books have talked about their experiences of the Indian Railways while on visit in India. Mira writes about her railway journey from Dadar to Nagpur. ‘But the moment I entered the carriage, all the romance of train travel in India, especially on an overnight train, came rushing back… Traveling by train in India is a nineteenth-century experience.’ Tarun writes, ‘Families stood, sat, or milled about, patiently waiting for a train that would leave at some future, indeterminate time’, in a section ‘Making the Trains Run on Time’.

Since my childhood I have been traveling on the Indian railway. Most of the times, it was a nightmarish suspense right from the beginning to the end. While I faced a burglary right on the Rajdhani at New Delhi station, I still can’t dare to take a train from an intermediate station for indeterminate delays. It is also difficult to locate the bogey you are booked in. No railway staff is present on platform to help the passengers who are booked even in AC classes. I have never asked for a car to receive me at disembarking station, because I never was certain about the delays.

Lalu Yadav, in last four years that he has been the boss of Indian railways, has sold his ministry well. Media have kept on singing the songs of his contributions to improve the performance of Indian railways from loss-making to a profiteering enterprise and even the IIM-A also placed him on a high pedestal. Some have even pronounced him as the best minister.

The profitability of railways might have improved, but during my travels in last one year, I didn’t find any significant difference. With one more budget on anvil on February 26, can Laluji present something really new and innovative? Railway is working on many dream projects. I have selected two of them: the conversion of New Delhi and Patna Railway station to world class level, and the rail link to Srinagar in Kashmir. With the present efficiency of project execution of railways, I don’t know if I shall be able to see the projects completed in my lifetime (now at 68 only). I know for sure that none of the big projects sanctioned for Bihar by Paswan, Nitish, and Lalu as railway ministers has got completed or get completed in next 2-4 years.

I would have liked if Laluji would have awarded a project to IIM-A or IIT- Delhi, if not to RITES, to suggest a low-cost and quickly implement-able roadmap to make the railway stations look decent and efficient.

Can’t Laluji find another Indian consultant or institution for finding ways and means to make possible the timely running of trains? Why should he presume or accept his babus’ excuses that it can’t be done?

Again, can’t railway ensure that a passenger gets a train ticket in five minutes so that huge wastage of man-days standing in queues at the hundreds if not thousands of ticket booking counters of the country is saved? If any one doubts it, he can visit the counter in Brahamputra complex, the only reservation counter in Noida.

Lastly, can Laluji ask the railway employees to be on platform at the railway stations and help the passengers instead of sleeping on their chairs in cabins? I wish he could remember how much troublesome it is to get any information on the railway station. Many improvements can come with just better work practices and without any investment and budgeting for it.

Unfortunately, the railway being a PSU, perhaps we can’t expect any significant improvement. It is surprising that railway has not an office or website that can give the best train route if I wish to see Ajanta & Ellora, Rameshwaram, and Hampi and return to Noida. Do any of the readers know about it? Please let me know so that I can correct my misgivings.

Laluji claims to be one from the masses and rural India. Can’t he provide some suitably designed trolleys for the porters (coolies), many of whom are pretty old and week?

What is the use of the budget full of false promises with no accountability, if not completed?

PS: At least Laluji appreciated one of the issues I wished to be sorted out. He has promised ‘Termination of queues at ticket counters targeted in two years’ in the budget presented today.
Highlights of railway budget 2008
Lalu’s promise: No long queues from 2010.

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