Indian Railways is often called the lifeline of India. The fourth largest network carrying 81 million of passengers, the second in capacity after China, unfortunately is in a bad state today. A plethora of accidents, 135 to be précise, greeted the NDA Government as it came, during 2014-15. But gradually the number has been reduced to 73 in 2017-18 as revealed in the RTI reply dated 28th November 2018 by the Ministry. But the decline is for other reasons than higher safety.
In another reply dated 26th December 2018, the Ministry told that while 3591 number of trains was cancelled during 2014-15, the same has been increased nearly six times to 21053 during 2017-18. These figures are also supporting the reply of Shri Rajen Gohain, The Minister of State (Railways), who told in Parliament that number of Passengers carried by Indian Railways was 8317 million during 2013-14 and the same has been reduced to 8116 million by 2016-17. Not only that, around 30% trains were running late in 2017-18 and it is increasing year after year. So there is an alternative explanation of reduction of accidents.
Rail Track Renewal & Electrification:
Rail track renewal is the most vital part as far as any safety & security of railways are concerned. But the RTI reply dated 4th February 2019 told that only in Financial Year 2017-18 Indian Railway crossed the figure of what UPA 2 had achieved during their first year of Government 2009-10. Indian Railways has a network of more than 117 lakh kilometer. Few are over burdened, few are over aged. RTI reply says that some 4000 km renewal as done, and it is only 3.5 % of the track.
Another factor can be considered is electrification of Rail Networks. Only during 2017-18 about 4087 Kms was electrified and first three years of this Government were wasted.
The last vital point of Rail development is laying new rail lines. Indian Railway has a vast network of single track. In this category 2017-18 saw sharp decline to 409 kilometer from 953 Kilometer being laid in 2016-17. At an average of 1.75 kilometer per day of laying track across five years, it can’t be claimed as a major achievement of the Railways under Modi regime.
The Chimera of Railway Financing:
Over the years Indian Railways has been in need of massive funds for developing its core operational sectors. “Highest Ever Funding of Rs. 1.5 lac crore for Railways – MoU Signed with LIC. A Big Step Forward to make Indian Economy more robust: Suresh Prabhu”, announced the government on 11th March 2015. The next information we found dated 27th October 2015 where ministry of Railway acknowledged the receiving of one installment from LIC amounting to 2000 crore. But no further information is available on any further installments released by the LIC in form of Bond to Indian Railway Finance Corporation as per the above MoU till 26th March 2018, even after 3 years.
As per another press release from the Ministry of Railways, "Ministry of Finance has approved Government guarantee of Rs. 5000 crore in the current Financial Year for Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC) bonds to be subscribed by Life Insurance Corporation (LIC)." Even if we consider that this amount has been released to IRFC, still the net assistance till February 2019 becomes 7000 crore only: not even 10% of the total commitment.
Foreign Collaborations: Much Ado about Nothing:
Several foreign MoUs have been signed but we are yet to see any impact on our Railway system except one rake of Telgo coaches being test run in some sectors. During the PM’s visit to France in April 2015, a protocol has been signed to seek cooperation for semi high speed rail and station renovation. No further news available on this. Again during his trip to China in May 2015, MoU was signed for specific cooperative initiatives within the financial year 2015-16. No action.
The latest one is an Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC), which was signed with Russia in October 2018. Other than development of Multi Modal Terminals, higher education for Indian Railways employees are also mentioned in that MoC. Government release said that this MoC is to carry forward the activities taken up under MoU signed between this two countries way back in December 2015. Thus, from MoU to MoC, Modi Government took almost 3 years. No news of any execution of this.
Whither Private Public Participation?
On 25th July 2018, the MOS Railways told the Parliament in a written reply, “Station development projects are complex in nature and required detailed techno-economic feasibility studies and statutory clearances from local bodies.” In that same reply he told that 13 stations has been identified for redevelopment through Public-Private Partnership model. They are Charbagh (Lucknow), Ernaculam, Gomti Nagar (Lucknow) , Habibganj (Bhopal), Delhi Sarai Rohilla , Jammu Tawi, Kota, Kozhikode , Madgaon, Nellor,Puducherry, Surat and Tirupati Railway Stations. "Offers through open bidding for Private Developers have already been done," he noted.
Now when we asked through RTI that, the reply notes, “No station has been handed over to Private parties till date. The railway PSU, IRSDC, has been authorized to redevelop station by way of leasing for a fixed tenure”.
During last seven years Railway bodies have floated and closed 24 contracts worth Rs.185.96 Crores. Only two out of these 24 contracts are related to actual construction and rest are engagement of various consultants only. Among those two awards of contracts, Redevelopment of Habibganj Railway Station has been awarded to Bansal Construction Work Pvt.Ltd. but the contractual amount has not been mentioned. The day Architect for Habibganj Railway Station was engaged, on the same day, the same Architect has been awarded to design for Chandigarh Railway Station. There is no news about the fate of it.
On 1st November 2018 , the Railway Board has issued a letter, mentioning that it has decided to entrust all the stations on Indian Railways except the ones already entrusted to IRSDC. Out of the list of 27 Stations therein, 10 have been given to a consortium of Railway Land Development Authority (RLDA) & NBCC India Limited, Delhi Safdarjung to a consortium of NBCC India Ltd & IRCON , Bhubaneshwar to be developed jointly by the Odisha Government & East Coast Railway and some 15 Stations to be developed by IRSDC.
So in gist, we can say not a single PPP has taken shape during last 2 years. But headlines were manufactured at regular interval to showcase the achievement of present government.
Sanjay Basu & Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury