Under the 6-week old Modi government, the first Railway Budget has come up with a swathe of reforms which – without getting into the mechanics of implementation – look very positive. The Budget’s focus on growth and modernisation by leveraging IT is a step in the right direction.
It is interesting that the railway budget announcements cut across the entire value chain, right from re-vamping the Railway Reservation System into Next Generation e-Ticketing ; GIS Mapping and Digitization of Railway Land; Wi-Fi enabled facilities in select categories & stations ; real-time tracking of trains to making it a paperless environment in next five years etc. These are all effective measures towards making the country’s largest employer more impactful. Encouragingly, the supply side is being addressed with equal concern – setting up of Incubation Centres, Railway University and hiring summer interns for them to make an early foray into this sector.
The direction towards a public-private partnership will also encourage the technology companies in India to actively partner with the Railways in achieving this vision. However, there is an urgent need to address challenges in the the existing procurement process in doing business with the Government, as a confidence building measure for the proposals to fructify.
The mainstay of the budget has clearly been growth and investments. Short-term issues pertaining to accountability and cleanliness were adequately discussed. The long term envisioning of PPP, private investments, FDI can only reap positive results, if small steps to the journey of a thousand miles are taken without further delay. For this to kick-start immediately the proposed investments can start off with brown-field projects (infrastructure of which already exists but needs more improvement) and in parallel, also address green-field projects which have been cited in the budget. Needless to say, for an organisation of the size of Indian Railways, a changeover will be fraught with initial challenges, but with time and by leveraging the power of technology, it would only show a healthier bottom-line through increased savings.