The right to lead has to be accounted for with every action. It is not a permanent given.

news Tuesday, April 07, 2015 - 05:30

Chitra Subramaniam | The News Minute | June 21, 2014 | 7:04 PM IST 

Taking a people into confidence is a confidence building measure many governments overlook. It is generally assumed that once a mandate has been secured, the decisions that follow will also be met with enthusiasm and the same degree of applause. The right to lead has to be accounted for with every action. It is not a permanent given.

The Narendra Modi government has increased railway fares by a 14.2 percent while freight rates will go up by 6.5 percent. Nobody, except vested interests grudge this move – the railways in India has fallen into serious disrepair and abuse and an economy of India’s size and ambitions cannot turn around without a backbone which the railways can become. 

People are interested in understanding the hike, especially how it will benefit them. Yes, it is important to say that the variable Fuel Adjustment Component (FAC) approved in last year’s rail budget is responsible for 4.2 percent of the hike. The remaining 10 percent is a flat hike across all classes. It is also important to signal that the FAC accounts for 1.4 percent of the hike in freight rate and there’s a five percent hike flat over for transporting goods across the country.  

But it is most important for people to know how their urban and rural transport system will work for them once the hike kicks-in. India has the world’s fourth largest railway network in the world – after the US, China and Russia – and some 8 billion people travel annually, making Indians a people who are the largest users of trains in the world. 

When you take a plane, you don’t ask how much goes for fuel and how much for maintenance. You first concern is safety.
Here are three things the Modi government could have done as a prelude to the railway fare- hike to a) quell the rabble rousers and b) to take people into confidence about a public service. 

Cleanliness

Indian Railways are notorious for the filth and dirt they live in. Dead cockroaches in cooked food served by the railways, dirty linen and filthy bathrooms are major issues. It is important to tell people how much money will be used to put in place a pan-railway cleanliness drive, something that has been promised by the government. Railway stations are the visible part of the problem. Recent WHO statistics say nearly 600 million Indians defecate in public is also a reminder that a lot of this happens along railways lines and train stations in cities and villages. Hygiene is not a part of railway services and their method of work. It should be. 

Timeliness

Trains in India are rarely on time. In fact a 30 minute to an hour’s delay is par for the course. It is impossible to understand announcements, the telephone lines to train stations rarely answer and electronic updates of information are rare if inexistent. There is no reason why this should be the case. Predictability and reliability of infrastructure is a critical growth engine. 

Safety

This is a big one. Rail accidents are common and train robberies have returned with a vengeance. Robbers stop trains between stations and loot passengers because there is no service to protect travelers and railway staff alike. It cannot be a question of manpower or maintenance only – management is equally important. 

Union Railway Minister Sadanand Gowda has called the hike “unpopular” as he readies to present the new government’s first rail budget and he has also made his case to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. He should now tell people how their travel, their safety and security will be addressed if they have to accept the hike as a necessary evil en route to growth and development. 

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