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IIM-A don meets the 'Railway CEO'

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, May 4: After the phenomenally sucessful 'Dabbawala' scheme in Mumbai, it is now the turn of the Lalu Prasad-led Railway Ministry, basking in its turnaround story, to become a study module in top grade management schools for prospective business honchos.

The unabashed praise for Railway Minister Lalu Yadav came from Prof. G. Raghuram, who teaches Public Systems Group at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, during his meeting with the minister at Rail Bhavan today.

Prof. Raghuram was accompanied by two others, including a member of the Railways' Baroda Staff College, during his nearly two-hour meeting with Mr Prasad.

And if the IIM don had a string of questions for the Railway Minister, the latter was quick to don the mantle of a CEO, narrating his spectacular initiatives that transformed the transport behemoth, written off barely three years ago by a high-powered committee, into a cash-rich, passenger-friendly entity.

Incidentally, Prof. Raghuram was a member of the Rakesh Mohan Committee that had predicted no hope for the Railways. Dr Rakesh Mohan, now the RBI Deputy Governor, had written in his report that the government's largest departmental enterprise was teetering on the brink of a financial collapse, faced bankruptcy and needed to be privatised and corporatised.

The committee had also pointed out that the government would be saddled with additional financial burden of Rs 61,000 crore. But belying all gloomy forecast, the Railways had already made fund balances of Rs 11280 crore at the end of March this year.

Giving details of today's meeting, Mr Sudhir Kumar, OSD to the Railway Minister, told UNI that the delegation wanted to know how the Railways had generated a profit of Rs 13,000 crore, the second biggest after ONGC and even leaving behind the Reliance Group.

They also wanted to have an insight into the managerial skill and leadership qualities of Mr Prasad.

The measures listed by Mr Prasad to the IIM don to streamline the Railways included plugging the leakage in revenues, stopping the overloading and streamlining the freight carriage through capacity utilisation.

''During the last three years, I did not effect any hike in passenger fare or freight charge but made the optimum use of capacity utilisation that resulted in the Railways having a cash surplus of over Rs 11,000 crore last year,'' Mr Prasad told the delegation.

Asked whether the credit for the Railways' turnaround should go to former Railway Minister Nitish Kumar, Mr Prasad pointed out that the Rakesh Mohan Committee, which had declared the Railways in ''a terminal debt trap'', had recommended a hike in passenger fares.

''My predecessor had effected a hike in passenger fares in tune with the recommendations of the Rakesh Mohan Committee, but for the last three years, I have not resorted to such a step,'' he said, adding that his ministry had developed a business module that had bolstered the Railways' coffers but without burdening the passengers.

Mr Prasad also said he had created a congenial atmosphere for better productivity in the country's biggest public sector enterprise.

Apparently, the Railways' spectacular balancesheet has fired the imagination of the IIM-A, which is all set to include it as a ''case material'' for its bright scholars. The IIM is also dovetailing into the case study the prospect of the sustainability of this turnaround story when Mr Prasad, the RJD powerhouse with his larger-than-life persona, moves out of Rail Bhavan.

The delegation members are slated to meet the Railway Board members tomorrow before going back to Ahmedabad.

Mr Kumar said they would also hold meetings with former Railway Ministers Nitish Kumar, Ram Vilas Paswan and Mamta Banerjee as also the ''last man'' of the organisation -- gangmen, keymen -- for making a case study of the Railways. They will make a documentation through field visits before submitting it to the IIM Board.

Known for his rustic charm and witticism, Mr Prasad had once said, ''Lathi (wooden staff) is my thermometer and the poor and the underprivileged are my transformer to effectively take on my opponents.'' In his latest avatar as the ''CEO of Indian Railways'', he wil soon be a study material for the brighest of brains in the country.

And this is going to be yet another feather in his cop. Only a year ago, he had shown his theatrics in ''Padamshri Laloo Prasad Yadav'', a Mahesh Manjrekar movie.

Now it is the turn of IIM students to scratch their brains and perhaps marvel at the CEO of the Railways.

Lalu has kindled interest abroad also. The Harvard University School of Social Sciences has researched about the man and conceived him as a harbinger of social justice.

Mr Kumar also disclosed that several foreign banks and FIIs are making a beeline for the Rail Bhavan to understand the Railways' turnaround story. ''What intrigues them is that the turnaround has been achieved in the face of diesel prices going up and AC fares being reduced.''


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