(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Railways was in news for different reasons last week. It wasn’t rail-budget (that the NDA government did away with in 2017 after 92 years); any train accident or cockroach in your dinner tray. It was because Sonia Gandhi, the matriarch of Congress, had opened her mouth and become a butt of joke.
Sonia makes few public speeches. But the other day, she spoke in Parliament and accused BJP of clandestinely “privatizing” Modern Coach Factory in Raebareli, Uttar Pradesh despite it producing coaches beyond its capacity. Her heart beat for thousands of employees who could be laid off. In perfect sync, All-India Railwaymen Federation (AIRF), with 1.4 million members, echoed Sonia’s fears.
Little had Sonia known of the muck it would invite on her own Congress party. Railway minister Piyush Goyal rose in reply and the skeletons of Congress regime began tumbling out. In 64 years, between 1950-2014, Congress had added only 13,000 odd tracks to its network; that Modern Coach Factory produced not a single coach since it was set in motion in 2007; and some unfinished projects in West Bengal date back from the 1970s. We would come to “privatization” bit in a while for a bigger Railways story awaits our attention.
India runs on Railways. Passenger services (11 million passengers per day) account for two-third of its operations; the remaining one-third is freight (6 lakh tonnes daily). In terms of revenue though the role reverses. Freight accounts for two-thirds of revenue. By 2050, India would account for 40 per cent of global Rail activity.
This is just a starter. India is poised to become world’s most populous nation by 2024. Most of it would be young, needing goods and that too in double quick time. India would’ve 829 million Internet users by 2021. It’s a prospect which salivates E-commerce biggies. It also has the government drooling towards its 5 trillion-economy goal. Transportation infrastructure, along with energy, is the biggest economic growth driver for the country. A 7% or 8% growth is impossible without an efficient Railways.
The worry is most of India’s transportation business still runs on land. That’s because our railway tracks carry both passengers and freight. It slows up the goods movement to a crawl. It makes transporters wary; and the investors reluctant. They have good enough reasons too. The account book of Railways show that out of every rupee it earned, 93 paisa was spent just to keep it chugging and alive.
In comes Dedicated Freight Corridor. Demand for rail freight movement is infinite. It’s government’s priority too. Two corridors under construction are expected to be functional over the next two years. The Eastern and Western Corridor covers a total stretch of 3,360 kilometres. The Eastern Corridor stretches from Ludhiana (Punjab) to Dankunj (West Bengal) and the Western one lasts from Jawaharlal Nehru Port (Mumbai) to Dadri (Uttar Pradesh). Visit any of its sites and you would be stunned by the speed of operations in sorting out locomotive and wagon specifications, energy maximization, freight logistics, track safety, commercial and marketing plans and skill-enhancement centres etc.
Freight is a game India can’t lag behind. While inland waterways, coastal shipping, air and road transport are doing their bit, Railways has to be the prime mover to prepare India for its next decade. The matter is not just of economy, it’s of environment too. While jobs and revenue are paramount, the matter of environment is one of life and death.
Fortunately, Indian Railways has pulled up its stocks. Nearly 45 per cent of all our rail nework is electrified today and rest are running on diesel locomotive. No longer we are reliant on steam engines which are run on coal and its fossil fuel lay our environment waste. Most, if not all, of our superfast trains hav electric engines. More and more tracks are being electrified. Varanasi and Chittranjan manufacture all types of railways engines. Coach factories in Perambur, Kapurthala, Raebareli etc produce the compartments on which India runs.
And talk of passengers. Since 2000, the growth of passengers using Indian Railways has gone up by 200 per cent. It would only grow further. India needs more and more short-distance trains which are electric and power efficient. Superfast trains, lampooned by opposition, are critical too.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off India’s first semi high-speed train, Vande Bharat Express, earlier this year. This plush 16-coach air-conditioned, self-propelled train doesn’t have a locomotive. It runs between Delhi and Varanasi with halts at Kanpur and Allahabad. The 780-km long journey is completed in eight hours and slices off three hours from it earlier duration. This is India’s fastest train to date. The looks and interiors of the train have the feel of a commercial airplane. Hold your breath, 130 similar semi high-speed trains are in the pipeline.
Sure, all this needs investment. Government is doing its bid to attract private players (General Electric is already there). Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is being sought. Public-Private Partnership is the need of the hour. Corporatization plan is mooted, like the one of Indian Railway Rolling Stock Company to hive off seven of its production units and associated workshops which Sonia Gandhi mischievously termed as “privatization.” Modernization drive has so far fetched Rs 1.21 lakh crore of investment. Indeed, the estimation is of $190 billion investment by 2050. High-speed trains could save India up to $64 billion on fuel expenses. The diesel cost presently is Rs 15000 crores per annum.
After an existence of 176 years, Indian Railways is getting the attention it deserves. No longer those railway budgets which were only meant to announce schemes and new routes and never saw the light. It desperately needs investment and India is exploring all its avenues. To run it down as “privatization by stealth” is ethical debauchery.
It’s only for their own good that Indian National Congress stop shouting hollow the “corruption” charge against Narendra Modi and his ministers in the garb of Rafale. Such charges may get an echo from your very own drummer boys and girls in media but is self-defeating. Mercenaries can do a lot of things but don’t appeal to logic. First, you dream a self-image; then pay the pen-pushers to give words to it; and then read and believe it. How stupid could you get?
Only, if they were to ask average readers, three questions would be thrown back at them: (1) Who made the charge (2) Why’s the charge; (3) What’s the follow-up?
So (a) Congress and opposition has made the charge; (b) the charge is of inflated bills for Rafale jets; and (c) err…no follow-up!!!
No follow-up? You mean no cases filed against corrupt ministers? No CBI, ED, Income Tax inquiries? No request for midnight anticipatory bails?
You see what I am leading to? Just imagine the picture: Rahul Gandhi in a residential colony of Delhi, say Safdarjung, asking a housewife on Rafale and being shot back at with these three questions. How do you think he would reply???
Let’s say Gandhi is carrying the clippings from Lutyens Media, The (pants on) Fire, Hugpost, TheScowl, ThePint, TheSquint as his file of defence. He dramatically pulls them out and says: yeh dekho, yeh dekho aur yeh bhi dheko!!! All can’t be wrong!
Oh, so it’s going to the chambers of our very own defence minister? But then she’s only be around 10 months? Why 10 months, even in the entire four-plus years of NDA, we haven’t heard of any corruption charge against any Central minister? Be it Union, minister of state or Independents in the Centre. No mid-night bail dramas, no-anticipatory reliefs. And you mean we have a corrupt government in the Centre?
How do you think Rahul Gandhi would reply? When names such as Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Piyush Goyal, Smriti Irani, Ravishankar Prasad, Prakash Javedkar, Jayant Sinha, Kirren Rijju, Nirmala Sitharaman, Manohar Parikkar, Rajyavardhan Rathore, Suresh Prabhu or Manoj Sinha are taken aloud in his face? How do you think he would react to this question: “Mr Gandhi, none of the above in the eyes of neutral citizens of this country are seen as corrupt. Not even by the media you quote. On the contrary, we know you and your mother are on a bail; your brother-in-law’s company is fighting 18 fraud cases; your pre-eminent minister Chidambaram and his son are anticipating arrests, etc. What makes you think we believe you?”
That’s the whole point: Corruption and this Modi government don’t connect. Insinuations are not charges. Claims are no evidence. Shouting is no logic. Especially when said by a voice which must end with a hug or a wink. A person who flies abroad while his party is bloodied on a political turf; a “young” leader whose’ voice on social media don’t seem to be his very own.
Let’s bring another relevant issue to the debate. Just google “Modi Arrogant.” You would have many of the above suspects voicing in unison: YES. That he is a dictator. He has reduced everybody to rubber-stump in the Cabinet etc.
Tell me frankly, do men like Gadkari, Rajnath, Goyal or Prasad look like errand-boys to you? Sushma, Nirmal and Smriti house-attendants? Rijju, Rathore, Parrikkar or Prabhus lawn-makers? Haven’t they carved out respect in the eyes of the people due to their hard work and integrity? Haven’t they survived because they are competent and not because they fear “Dictator Modi.”
Congress and its’ echo-chamber today is completely divorced from reality. Such antics are only good to fool yourself. That’s like you are spot-running, going nowhere. If I was Rahul Gandhi, I would take a sabbatical, withdraw from this heat of the battle, go on a personal, physical “Discovery of India.” Know real men, know real India, know real issues. That’s what the original Gandhi did. That’s what our present so-far-dummy Gandhi must do.