Lalu Prasad Yadav on Indian Railways’ success story at India Today Conclave 2007

first_imgLalu Prasad YadavLALU PRASAD YADAVUNION RAILWAYS MINISTER I really feel a proud man today. Till yesterday I was known as a joker, a rustic. Today, after talking to you, I am going to address students of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology who have come all the way here to hear,Lalu Prasad YadavLALU PRASAD YADAVUNION RAILWAYS MINISTER I really feel a proud man today. Till yesterday I was known as a joker, a rustic. Today, after talking to you, I am going to address students of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology who have come all the way here to hear from me about the success story of the turnaround of the Indian Railways.But before talking about the Railways I was thinking that many of our economists and think tanks do not have any idea of what a village is like and yet they discuss at length about the country and the state. The result is that all the resources and capital are today restricted in a few hands. That’s why we have to make policies keeping the common man in mind. People, however, say we make some policies that do not give us any return, such as the ‘mid day meal’ sheme. But if the children of our country turn literate because of it, they become our asset. So it is not a useless expense.Now the Indian Railways. As you all know, it is a big network. It has approximately 14 lakh workers, runs 1,100 trains every day and carries more than 1.5 crore passengers. Till yesterday, the Railways was in a very bad shape, not even in a position to pay dividend. It was completely bankrupt. Some years ago, the Rakesh Mohan Committee was set up and it came up with various suggestions. The Railways is our lifeline, one of the important infrastructures that we have. We could have ignored it only at our own peril. The committee made several suggestions: dissolve the Railway Board and create a regulatory commission; decrease the staff strength; increase the railway budget every year, increase passenger and freight fares every year; privatise services.advertisementTo tell you the truth, when the UPAcame to power in 2004, I was not interested in becoming the railway minister. I wanted to become the home minister but they made me the railway minister and I said okay. I started looking into its functioning and found that accidents were a common feature in the Railways and I used to think, what if these keep happening and I had to face Parliament every day. If accidents happen every day, the MPs will keep asking for my resignation every day and one day I might have to resign too.So I got down to the job earnestly and one of the first things I told the Railway Board was that they must have honesty, commitment and vision. We felt if we increased the fare it would affect the masses. Instead, we reduced the fares. Every day, approximately, 60-70 lakh people travel in Mumbai suburban railway where the passenger fare is already low, but still we reduced the fare by a rupee. We also reduced the fare of the goods train.MID DAY MEALS WERE CRITICISED. AS USELESS EXPENSE. BUT IF CHILDREN TURN LITERATE, THEY BECOME AN ASSET TO THE NATION.I assured all 16 lakh gang men, signalmen and others that they will not be retrenched. The turn around in the Railways is not one man’s effort, I have merely directed it. I just said we will not let anybody steal. We have to stop it. I have personally checked goods trains, weighed the goods on the weighing machine and found huge disparities in load booked and the actual load carried. Several officers have been punished. Earlier the loading and unloading used to take seven days, now it has been reduced to five days. By taking these few small steps only, we were able to save about Rs 10,000 crore. Not just that, we have reduced the expenditure and last year we had a surplus of Rs 13,000 crore and we have paid dividends. This year again we had a surplus of Rs 20,000 crore. We have money now. We are going to get new coaches designed for every class.Almost 60 per cent of freight in India is carried by road and I want that to move to the Railways. Now we are adding lines to handle the extra freight that we envisage. A third line is being built from Ludhiana to Howrah covering all ports including Haldia.I have some other plans also. After the Ministry of Defence, the Indian Railways is the biggest landowner in the country. I intend to commercially exploit this asset. We will build world-class stations, budget hotels as in the West. Look at the irony: the shoes and sandals that we wear are sold in air-conditioned showrooms while the items that we eat like tomatoes, onions, potatoes etc are being sold on footpaths. These things are produced by our farmers and we have to give them all the facilities they need to sell their products and get the prices that they deserve. So we have plans to give land to farmers on lease, create cold storages near the stations with packaging facilities. Corporate houses can come and buy the stuff from the stations and we will carry the stuff by air-conditioned container services. I know that what I have done has not pleased everybody. My only aim is to give relief to the people and take the country forward.advertisement DiscussionQ. From what you have said it appears to me that Indian Railways has the potential to become the largest retail chain in the country. Is this part of your vision or not? Yadav: There is a tremendous scope of improvement in the railways, be it in IT or advertisements or retail. Banks have also started investing in Railways and are handling ticketing and other activities.Q. You talked of the Railways being like the Jersey cow. Yadav: Indian Railways is like a Jersey cow. Cows should be properly bred and milked. They should not be over-milked because that will bleed them and they should not be undermilked, or they will fall ill. In three years, we have brought the Railways on the track and that too without any hardship.Q. There is still a problem of sanitation in the Railways, toilets are not clean. Yadav: We have taken steps. I am introducing a system, just like in aeroplanes, there will be a suction pit. This will be advertised shortly. When trains will go to the washing pit, this suction pit will be taken out. I have seen this in European countries as well. From the washing pit, the waste will be sent to be stored in a different place and then we can utilise it as gas and fertiliser source.Q. You have turned the Railways into a success story. But there are other sectors that are still bleeding. Will you like to turn your attention to them?   Yadav: Please wait till I become the prime minister.Q. Why couldn’t you do for Bihar in 15 years what you did for the Railways in three years? Yadav: We have not failed in Bihar. Our planners, who sit in the Planning Commission, have neglected Bihar since the beginning. You know, Bihar is a strong state, it is a rich state but Biharis are poor. It was abuse of Bihar as a whole. Wherever there are mines and minerals, there is wealth. God has given wealth but we were not the actual owners of mines and minerals. But in united Bihar there was lowest per capita investment in comparison to other states. I fought with the Centre. I made three prime ministers but they did nothing for Bihar. And people criticised Biharis. Biharis are everywhere-in Surinam and Mauritius also. Now the UPA Government is paying attention. We are opening up factories. An electric coach factory will come up at Madhepura, diesel loco at Barhara, wheel factory at Chapra. This is for the first time Bihar is getting justice.advertisementQ. What is the future of UPA Government and Lalu Prasad? Yadav: Who can forecast the future? Lord Krishna said that whatever has to happen will happen and that cannot be averted. But the future of UPA is bright. We will complete five years and more.Q. Your take on SEZs. Yadav: We are not opposing investment and industry. If the farmers are willing to give land directly to industrialist we have no objection. Barren tracts of land can be given to develop infrastructure.Q. What will happen in UP? Yadav: No comments. It will be a hotch potch and the other Yadav will not come back.last_img