There is a little doubt that the rail fare hike was a much necessary exercise to revive the cash strapped Indian Railways.
The Narendra Modi-led government increased the rail fares within days of his tough talk about tough decisions to be taken for reviving the economy. The rail minister issued a one liner saying that he was “forced to approve” the decision of his predecessor, as if the government was crying while taking such an unpopular measure.
There is a little doubt that the rail fare hike was a much necessary exercise to revive the cash strapped Indian Railways. Even though it was a decision taken by the previous UPA government and held back at the last moment, the Modi government did not need to put the blame over the previous government.
As R Jagannathan wrote in his article: ‘If the Narendra Modi government wanted to avoid a passenger fare hike, it could have done so and claimed credit for it. But since it did not do so, it means it decided it had to implement the fare hike. So trying to pass the buck to the UPA is a self-defeating approach.”
But that was overcome when the janata accepted the hikes and slammed UPA for not taking enough reform measures for railways in its 10 years tenure.
Now is the time, when Modi must own the changes and push for reforms in the railways.
In the immediate measures, the first step should be to take a note of the many accidents that have happened over the period of time. It could not have happened had the bureaucracy in railways have been ‘tight’ and up on its toes. Lives would not have been lost unnecessarily.
As Nandan Nilekani writes in his book, Imagining India “When I visited Sudhir Kumar at the railway ministry, what struck me was that a big part of his job was battling this inertia within the bureaucracy and in the railway regulation. He described his astonishment when on a visit to the Rail Museum he found documents and weight standards for rail track dating from 1922 that were exactly the same as the standards the Indian Railways use now.”
Second should be a check on the hygiene standards of railways and platforms. The sanitation level in the train toilets and platform toilets is pathetic and poses a problem especially to the ladies passengers.
Third should be a check on the Railway Police Force and their lackadaisical attitude. They simply do not listen to the passengers’ problems. In fact, there have been cases of harassment by railway police force personnel registered by passengers. Also, they are ill equipped for the scenarios of dacoity or burglary in the trains.
Fourth should be the privatization of railways or introduction of corporate culture in the railways. As the Rakesh Mohan Committee recommended at the turn of the last decade, we need business heads for passenger traffic, freight traffic, rolling stock, tracks and so on.
Last, but not the least, the railway ticketing system should be revamped. Taking a ticket in case of emergency should not be difficult as it is today. People line up at the tatkal booking windows and open the IRCTC websites but still fail to get a ticket. The two months window for the ticket booking too does not offer much help.
It is time that people ride in comfort after shelling so much money.