The railways have been crippled by financial woes and often, populist stances taken by railway ministers are blamed for the deteriorating conditions in a key public sector unit of the country. Earlier this year, the nation witnessed how a railway minister was sacked by his party, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), for he tried to increase train fares for the betterment of the railways in the public interest.
Train mishaps have become a regular affair and passenger security has taken a serious beating. The current railway minister, Mukul Roy, also from the TMC, said, after the deadly fire that killed many people in a compartment of the Tamil Nadu Express in Nellore last month, that he had sought special financial help for the railways from the PM and would approach the latter again.
It shows how desperately the railways need improvement and many quarters feel that Singh's initiative to make the sector a key part of the overall infrastructural development would help things for the better. A better health of the railways, which serve as the nation's lifeline, will facilitate infrastructural development, which in turn will encourage investment and ensure economic growth.
The PM is also stressing other transportation sectors like civil aviation and shipping but railways, being the cheapest and widest mode of transportation in the country, is always the first preference of investors. But the problem in India is that these key sectors often suffer under the compulsion of coalition politics. The lesser parties are mostly given these ministries but they remain busy with politics limited to their own region and pay little attention to the ministries that are crucial in the all-India perspective. The Centre, it is believed, has understood the problem and is seeking more coordination in these ministries.
The ABP reported that the PM is mainly stressing the elevated rail corridor in Mumbai and the high-speed rail corridor between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Singh is also interested on the freight corridors and improving railway stations and he wants, sources added, private investment in these projects. He was ordered to set up a steering committee on the matter and the high-profile committee is set to comprise top railway, finance and Planning Commission officials, the ABP report said.
Official sources said that the PMO wrote to the Rail Board chairman and other members on the railway projects several times in the last few months. The PM also convened a meeting recently on infrastructure projects and railway officials were invited there. But the railway minister skipped the meeting for he was busy with the inauguration of his party office in Chandigarh! The PM, who was left disappointed, thereafter took the initiative himself to develop the railway infrastructure, said the report.
Sources in the railway ministry said the PM is authorised to look into the functioning of any ministry but Singh has only stressed infrastructural development and not intervening in the ministry's day-to-day functioning.