Joined: 17 Jul 2006
|Posted: Fri Jul 28, 2006 6:23 pm Post subject: Indian Railways - Changes to come
|Indian Railways - Changes to come
The railway man
Jul 27th 2006 | DELHI
From The Economist print edition
An unlikely figure on the big stage
LALOO PRASAD YADAV, India's railway minister, was known during the 15 years that he and his wife, Rabri Devi, were successive chief ministers of the state of Bihar, for his earthy realism and rustic lifestyle, which included keeping cows in the garden of his official residence. He was also famous for failing to improve the lot of one of India's poorest and most lawless states, and for a raft of corruption charges that put him in jail five times. In May 2004, he was made railways minister in Delhi. He was expected to do little more than follow his predecessors' preoccupation with improving railway services and investments in his home state.
Ever upwards from Bihar
But Mr Yadav is a wily and disarming politician and has confounded his critics by becoming one of the country's most successful railway ministers. And he has not forgotten his cows. “If you don't milk your cow fully it falls sick, and if the cow falls sick the farmer goes sick,” he says to explain his solutions to the problems of the world's second largest railway network. With more than 1.4m employees and 63,000km (40,000 miles) of track, the railways still help bind India together, but they have suffered from deteriorating finances and lack the funds for future investment.
Rather than raise fares as he was urged to do by various reports and pundits, Mr Yadav has opted for volume-boosting and cost-cutting measures that have made diehard officials in the stuffy Railways Board shudder. He increased load limits for the system's 220,000 freight wagons by 11%, legalising something that was already happening. He has boosted the railways' earnings by 72 billion rupees ($1.6 billion) in the current year. Of this, 60 billion rupees came from speeding up turn-round times. These measures have added some 24% to freight revenues—and freight provides 70% of the railways' earnings.
Mr Yadav has also speeded up train inspections, varied a train's number of passenger coaches according to demand (they used to have standard lengths), and introduced an upgrade system to fill vacant upper-class seats (a well-known source of bribes). Companies are being allowed to run their own container trains. The first tranche of an 11,000km freight corridor linking India's biggest cities has recently been approved.
But why has Mr Yadav tried so unexpectedly hard? Simple. As he openly admits, he wants to be prime minister. His corruption charges might appear to be something of a stumbling block, but he is more concerned that his “credibility has improved”. It might seem a very long shot. But, given the fractious nature of India's coalition politics, the low-caste populist from India's roughest state cannot be ruled out as a compromise candidate if things get complicated after a future general election.