India: Prime Minister's office voices extreme displeasure over functioning of railways

A key target was the promise to achieve 'modernisation of facilities in railways' which, as the letter suggests, has not happened so far. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons) Photograph:( Others )

DNA New Delhi, Delhi, India Feb 22, 2017, 02.57 AM (IST)

By Sana Shakil

Railway minister Suresh Prabhu has begun to feet the heat after a spate of major train accidents this year that have left more than 225 people dead. From none other than the prime minister's office. 

The PMO has dispatched an official letter, dated January 31, expressing its displeasure over the functioning of the railways.

The letter, accessed exclusively by DNA, was written by Nripendra Mishra, principal secretary to the prime minister, to Railway Board chairman AK Mittal. it addresses the ministry’s inability to achieve many of the targets that it had set itself over the last two years.

Key among them was the promise to achieve “modernisation of facilities in railways” which, as the letter suggests, has not happened so far.

“You are aware of the focus of the government towards development and modernisation of facilities in railways,” Mishra tells Mittal in the letter.

“While reviewing the progress up to 2016, against the target of 1500 km of doubling, only 531 km has been achieved. In electrification, against the target of 2000 RKM, only 1,210 km has been achieved by railways,” it states.

Doubling is laying another set of tracks on the same route. It serves the purpose of easing congestion on those sections which have ample traffic but low availability of tracks.

The PMO’s displeasure with the railways is so high that Mishra also warns Mittal through the letter that the railways needs to “justify higher allocation in the next budget”. In this year’s Rail Budget, the railways had received an impressive Rs 1,31,000 crore from the Finance Ministry. This was much more than what other transport ministries such as road and civil aviation had received.

The year 2016 was one of the worst years for the Railways as far as train accidents went.

Experts say most of the accidents took place on heavily congested routes allegedly due to rail fracture, which happens when the track is overused without proper maintenance. It is for these busy routes that doubling is most important and experts have time and again pointed out the need for more doubling in railways.

So far the Railways Ministry, according to the PMO, has not used its resources well. The letter speaks of the government’s displeasure over the ministry, “crowding its expenditure for the last quarter”.

According to sources, nearly 50 per cent of the planned expenditure by the ministry remains unused in the early quarters and the railways only starts using them by the last quarter. The letter makes it clear that railways should ensure that there is no crowding of expenditure, “as that slows down the pace of implementation in the first quarter of the next annual budget”.

Apparently, the PMO is not the only entity upset by Prabhu and his ministry. Sources reveal that finance minister Arun Jaitley has also been asking the ministry to focus on its core work -- running trains safely and modernising the railways.

(This report first appeared in DNA)