ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Indian Railways: Towards Derailment?

With little by way of measures to move the railways out of the rut into a high-growth track, the Railway Budget 2001-02 is not only disappointing , but worrying as well. Why have the advice and recommendations of high powered, expert committees with regard to resource generation, tariff strategies, development plans, depreciation provisions, etc, been ignored , jeopardising the longterm survival of the railways?

Given the perception of the railways as drawn in the Status Paper on Indian Railways brought out by the ministry of railways in 1998, it was hoped that significant measures would be introduced to put the organisation back on the right track so that it would support the high growth path that has been envisaged under a liberalised economic regime. If the Railway Budgets of 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, which could have served as mechanisms for change, were disappointing, the Budget for 2001-02, presented to parliament last week, is much more so.

Despite a decade of reforms, the railway minister deemed it fit to observe “ I would say that the Indian Railways are today standing at a junction station. One track takes them to reforms, revival and rejuvenation. The other track will lead them to a nowhere land of crisis and chaos. Sir, we must make the right choice, sooner, rather than later” (p 23, part I, GoI 2001). That there is still talk of a choice is indeed an admission on the part of the railways that they have not as yet attempted to reform themselves. Such a situation is both baffling and worrying. The surprise is that the status quo has been maintained despite good advice from high power, professional committees like the Railway Fare and Freight Committee [GoI 1993], Committee to Study Organisational Structure and Management Ethos on Indian Railways [GoI 1994], Railway Capital Restructuring Committee [GoI 1996] and so on. The worry relates to the consideration that the long-term survival of the railways is being severely threatened on account of failure to listen to sane advice. Letting bygones be bygones, the important question is: whether the proposals for 2001-02 attempt some move towards the right track?

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