The Indian Railways arouses conflicting emotions. The question everybody now wants to know is will Dinesh Trivedi - the Union Minister for Railways and the Trinamool Congress MP from Barrackpore be able to deliver an effective Budget?
The Indian Railways arouses conflicting emotions or for its sheer scale and reach, anger about its abysmal safety standards and dismay over its poor service quality. It's not easy to lead this mammoth and complex organization especially if you have had the job for less than a year and add to that, the pulls and pressures of collation politics.
The question everybody now wants to know is will Dinesh Trivedi - the Union Minister for Railways and the Trinamool Congress MP from Barrackpore be able to deliver an effective Budget?
Below is an edited transcript of his interview with CNBC-TV18’s Anuradha SenGupta. Watch the accompanying videos for more.
Q: You have released a report - the expert group on modernizations report of the Railways headed by Sam Pitroda. This committee recommends that you need to invest over Rs 800,000 crore in the next five-years. Is this an addition to the Rs 100,000 crore that the Kakodkar Committee on safety has already recommended?
A: No, it is a part of it. What I am really concerned about and I am sure all the citizens and all the travelling public should be concerned about as well is - safety. I always tell my board members that if I have got 10 big points on Indian Railways, the first three points are: number one - safety, two is safety and three is safety. In order to ensure that you are 100% safe what do you do in modern times? You modernize.
Modern means the latest technology. Modern doesn’t mean a lovely looking paint, that is a part of cosmetics and that is required too. But basically your infrastructure should be solid. If you look at the investigation after an unfortunate accident they’ll say human error. We need to have a paradigm shift. Whatever railway has done so far I can tell you it's outlived it's utility.
Now we need to rebuild the Indian railways all over again. We need to change the tracks, we need to make sure the tracks can take heavier loads, that the tracks can take more speed and for that we need to change the signaling system, we need to change the rolling stock, the coaches, the locos, we need to change the stations.
Q: But the tag that comes with achieving these objectives is over Rs 800,000 crore. The question is where will this money come from?
A: There is nothing called a free lunch. I wish there was magic and that’s what governments are all about. I have no doubt about it that the government is obligated.
Q: For about three-four months we have been hearing continuous arguments, and disagreements that your party, the Trinamool Congress is having with the Congress. You all are collation partners whether it was the Lokpal Bill and the fact that it didn’t get passed in the Rajya Sabha, whether it is the national counter terrorism centre, whether it's FDI in retail you know better than me, you have been dealing with all of it.
A: I have been in the cross fire.
Q: You have been caught between a rock and a hard place isn’t it?
A: No, as far as I am concerned, I am focused. I am not into politics in terms of getting the Railways where it should. I am more like a CEO. I am more like a professional guy. I am more like a managing director where I have to deliver and I don’t get bogged down into any kind of politics. I have to take everybody as a team.
Q: But you have been quoted in the last couple of weeks implying that this government is treating the railways like an orphan, implying that this government is leaving the railways to the whims and fancies of an individual or minister? Are you implying that you are getting words and not actions from the Planning Commission in spite of various meetings?
A: No, that’s not true. If you are quoting some kind of report which I have already sent rejoinder to that particular newspaper, there is no substance between the banner headlines and what the body of the text is of the reporting. I can tell you the Prime Minister is very supportive. If there is one person in this body politics who is inspiring me to carry forward this reform is the honourable Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. I have total faith and he is really encouraging me.
Montek Singh is a dear friend; he is also going all out. The Finance Minister has his compulsions and I am a practical guy. I know nobody has a magic wand. The Finance Minister is also worried about deficit budgeting. I understand but I also have to put forward what I need. If a child doesn’t cry the mother doesn’t feed.
Q: Should the public believe that this acrimony that we hear in the political space will not come in the way of presenting an effective Budget on March 14?
A: Of course not. I am here to deliver.
Q: You expect the government to support you?
A: Of course, the government will support because I am not away from the government. I am part of the government. Every minister has to fight for his turf and that is what the duty of every minister is, irrespective of party politics. If you think a cabinet minister in the Congress doesn’t fight for his right and for his turf, he must and if he is not doing it then he is not doing his duty.
Q: The one taboo factor where it comes to internal revenue generation and that is fares. For eight years now we have had no hike in passenger fares. The safety committee led by Anil Kakodkar has suggested a safety cess which would translate into higher fares. Will you be able to bite the bullet on fares?
A: I have calculated. As per even the Sam Pitroda report, our internal generation for five years should be about Rs 2 lakh crore. I am already generating, even if I don't do anything, Rs 1 lakh crore is already there in development, in adding more traffic etc. All I have to do is generate about Rs 20,000 crore odd every year which is not very difficult given such a huge base. It’s not a difficult proposition. I am very confident that without hurting the common man on the street and I can tell you that fares is not the end of the world.
Q: But it is a sacred cow in India and it's a sacred cow where your party is concerned, when it comes to the public statements that your party leaders have been making?
A: Passengers come and tell me - why are you not doing this or that but in return I have to give more comfort to the passengers. It is never just a one-way traffic. I have to give them more efficiency. Today, the Indian public is ready and is itching whether it is the unions, whether it is the consultative committee, whether it is Parliament, whether it is members of Parliament, even the media is asking. But I have to do something intelligent. 30% of the revenue can come from the stations.
Q: There is a sense that the government is expecting the railways to do much more to generate its own internal revenues and the suggestion seems to be in the direction of fares. Are we getting misled?
A: What will fares give me? If over a period of 10 years I require Rs 10 lakh crore, over a period of first five-years, I require Rs 8 lakh crore. What is Rs 5,000-7,000 crore? How much can fares give me? Maximum Rs 10,000 crore. But fares are there that you can sustain your cost. The whole idea is that you are capable of taking care of your operational costs. Standalone you are not like Air India, you are serious in terms of making your two ends meet. Once your operating ratio which is today at 94 or 96, in between it had even gone to 98, your operating ratio has to come down to 80s.
Once your operational ratio is around 80 then your investment makes sense. So in order to earn Rs 100 you are investing only Rs 80. So it's a good investment proposition. Once your base is strong, your investment can give you a better return. Than you can even have the Warren Buffett’s of the world looking at Indian Railways very seriously as an investor. I can tell you I have already opened a channel talking to Warren Buffet why don’t you take interest in the Indian Railways and he would be very much interested I can guarantee you.
For the complete show watch the accompanying videos...
READ MORE ON Budget 2012, Union Budget 21012, Dinesh Trivedi, Railways, Indian Railways, Sam Pitroda, Kakodkar Committee, Anuradha SenGupta, Anil Kakodkar
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