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Railways derailed from the safe track


Around 70 people got injured after nine coaches of the Kaifiyat Express derailed near Auraiya district in Uttar Pradesh. This is the second such accident in Uttar Pradesh within four weeks. 

Like after every accident, the centre stage is taken by the high voltage political drama. The case is no different here, with the opposition demanding the resignation of the railway minister. While according to reports, Suresh Prabhu was ready to do so but apparently Narendra Modi asked him to 'wait'.

Wait for what? Railway taking the toll on more lives. Let's not get into the political doldrums as even if Prabhu resigns, someone else will come on and give the same excuses. The point is that his resignation can wait but reforms can't. 

Indian railways, which was once proudly called the ‘nation’s lifeline’ has lost its glory. Politicians have played havoc on the grand old institution. The root problem is that the state has the monopoly over Indian Railways, starved by politics of investment and technology, and prevented by a pernicious departmental structure from becoming a modern, vibrant enterprise. As a result, it is hard to get a ticket as capacity is short; service is shoddy, callous and unsafe, despite the railways being hopelessly over-manned.

A committee headed by economist Bibek Debroy recommended corporatization of the railway board and separation of roles of policy making, regulation and operations suggesting that the ministry of railways be only responsible for policy making.

The committee suggested forming an independent regulator for economic regulation and a railway infrastructure company that will own the railway infrastructure, thus de-linking both from the railways.

Indians have learned from the 1991 LPG model that monopolies are bad. Before their eyes competition has created a telecom revolution. Who would have imagined that even the poorest would have a phone — India now has over 1 billion telephones compared to 50 lakh in 1990. Competition has lowered prices, improved services, engendered innovation, and diminished corruption.

This is the burning need of the hour. If we want railways to become a safer commute option, we have got to bring privatisation in and reduce the role of the state. The competition will lead to better, cleaner, safer services and happier customers. 

The ball is now in Prabhu’s court. Let's hope he brings safety back on track.

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Railways derailed from the safe track

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