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Tuesday 21, January 2020
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Ailing Railways

A report tabled in Parliament by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has highlighted the grave financial situation of the Railways.

A report tabled in Parliament by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has highlighted the grave financial situation of the Railways. The national transporter recorded an operating ratio of 98.44 per cent in 2017-18, the worst in a decade. It spent Rs 98.44 to earn Rs 100, way above the figures in 2010-11 (Rs 94.6) and 2011-12 (Rs 94.9). The net revenue surplus dropped alarmingly by 66.1 per cent from Rs 4,913 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 1,665.61 crore in 2017-18. The CAG noted that the decline in generation of internal resources resulted in the Railways’ greater dependence on gross budgetary support and extra budgetary resources for meeting its capital expenditure.

The ‘Give Up’ scheme, started in 2017 to encourage senior citizens to forgo their train fare concession, has flattered to deceive. Of the 4.41 crore elderly passengers, only 1.7 per cent opted to give up 50 per cent rebate and just 2.47 per cent did not avail a fare waiver. The dismal numbers show that the Railways has failed to generate awareness among senior citizens about the initiative aimed at enhancing revenue. The sorry state of affairs is a far cry from the days of Lalu Prasad Yadav as Rail Mantri in the UPA-I government. His tenure was not controversy-free, courtesy the IRCTC hotels’ tender allotment scam, but he is credited with turning around the Railways’ fortunes. Lalu’s homespun management model even attracted Harvard and Wharton business schools, though the CAG was unimpressed by his ‘cash and investible surplus’ claim. He took the populist route by neither hiking passenger fares nor retrenching workers, while allowing overloading of freight wagons and simplifying the freight tariff.

Even as an empowered group set up by the NDA government is looking into the feasibility of upgrading 50 railway stations to world-class standards and allowing private players to operate 150 trains, the Railways needs to walk a tightrope — rationalise its workforce on the one hand and scale up services to meet passengers’ expectations on the other. Timely replacement of old assets and curtailing wasteful expenditure would be in order too. The nation’s lifeline awaits a new lease of life.

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