I still remember when, at the end of 2011, a team from the famous James Bond unit approached me seeking permission to film the current Bond, Daniel Craig, for his movie Skyfall, which was released in 2012, I had three conditions: one, no compromise with safety. Two, no scene showing passengers on the roof of the train. And finally, that James Bond would become brand ambassador for the Indian Railways and would say, “Indian Railways is stronger than James Bond!”
While there was no issue with the first and third conditions, the crew had a problem with the second. I was told that the very purpose of approaching the Indian Railways was to shoot Bond travelling and fighting on the rooftop of a train. Later, I realised that even the popular Hindi film song “chhaiyyan chhaiyyan” was shot with people travelling on the roof of a train. This is, by and large, how our railways is perceived by the outside world.
The fact is, in non-electrified areas of the Indian Railways, travelling on the roof is not uncommon. We often compare ourselves with China in terms of growth and economic progress, but just about 20 years ago, China was 15 years behind the Indian Railways, and now it has gone so far ahead that I don’t think we will ever be able to reach anywhere near it. Just by looking at the efficiency of the railway system/ transportation network of a country — or the lack of it — one can safely categorise the country as economically developed, developing or underdeveloped. Given the condition of the trains in which the masses travel and the way in which freight is hauled, it is difficult to say in what category India falls.
The time has come to decide how one should define the Indian Railways. Is it only a poor man’s transportation system from point A to point B under conditions of suffocation and uncertainty, or an asset that should add at least 2.5 per cent to the GDP while efficiently and safely transporting goods and people? What needs to drastically change is the mindset of our political parties. First, the Indian Railways needs to be depoliticised; and second, there is a need for a national policy on the Indian Railways so that, even with changes in government, minister, the chairman of the railway board or its members, policy does not change.
At present, railway policy is minister-centric, there is no national policy. The Indian Railways is a capable organisation, with a dedicated workforce. It is a well-integrated family of railway men headed by knowledgeable, experienced and capable board members despite the fact that various departments work in silos. Our political system has not understood the potential of the Indian Railways.
India cannot eliminate poverty or contain inflation without an efficient transportation system, and given the constraint of land and the …continued »