On May 6,barely three days after it was rocked by the arrest of its Member (Staff) and then railway ministers nephew on bribery charges,the Railways issued a global request for qualification for its biggest PPP projects the locomotive factories at Madhepura and Marhaura in Bihar.
The issue of these heavyweight tenders despite the shadow cast by the CBI over the railway tendering processes and top-level appointments to the Railway Board was a step in the right direction.
The Railways cannot afford to let the bribery scam derail its process of reform,which has taken years to get rebooted starting with the hike in passenger fares this year.
True,there is palpable gloom at the Rail Bhavan,with too many officials expressing suspicion privately that their phones are being tapped. The silence from the top brass at a time like this has not helped. Not once has the chairman,Railway Board,come out to dispel the negative perception gaining ground about the ministry.
Agreed,the complex rules governing railway appointments need to be revised to end any scope for manipulation. But that is something the government may or may not do at this juncture. While a new minister will definitely finalise the high-level appointments pending in the ministry,it is understood that he will not have the time to overhaul the system of appointments,with just months left before the big election. All this,therefore,must not hinder the vital cogs in the Railways from moving.
Thankfully,the ongoing summer rush of passengers is being handled as per standard operating procedures. Miscellaneous rates and charges are also being hiked from time to time. This ability to function in auto-pilot mode has always been a railway specialty,even during the reign of absentee ministers like Mukul Roy.
In a crisis such as this,the Railways needs to draw strength from this ability and stay on the course of reform,as promised by the Rail Budget,which talked of better services,new trains and jobs to 1.52 lakh people this year.
The 2.3 crore passengers every day continue to suffer substandard food,dirty toilets and the perpetual difficulty in booking a confirmed ticket. These people deserve a better Indian Railways,even if its morale is low and its integrity is under the scanner for now.
Avishek is a special correspondent based in Delhi