By Syed Talat Hussain
The crisis in the Railways is a classic example of incompetence and mismanagement bringing ruin to a perfectly manageable institutions. Poor man’s luxury that the Railways used to be, is now a pale shadow of its previous self. Not that in the past trains were swift on their tracks or completely comfortable, but still, these had a system, and, on average, performed according to the requirements of the millions of travelers who boarded them. All of us who have had the experience of train travel would recall at least one or two instances of missing the journey on account of arriving late on the station by minutes. This means that the trains departed and arrived on time, which in turn, means that more or less the institution for all its debilities did work. So the total collapse that the nation is witnessing in the Railways is a new development.
This is partly the result of corruption and corrupt practices, the signpost of which is the case of locomotives’ purchase case in the Supreme Court where rules and procedures were violated with the purpose of gaining personal benefit. The ministers and bureaucrats who supervised Railways ruin have been busy minting money rather than attending to its inner deterioration. The other cause is a strange and criminal sense of resignation that the present government has developed towards crumbling institutions. Ghulam Bilour, who has made a career out of throwing fits and hurling imaginary fists at anyone pointing to his incompetence, embodies this attitude.
Any suggestion of salvaging Railways—like Lalu Prasad’s restructuring and reorganization that saved Indian Railways and yielded billions of dollars of profits in a short span—is met with contempt and an accompanying demand of more money—25 billion rupees of annual subsidy. Without money, he says, little can be done other than privatize it—the easier solution, or, actually, a cop out. It is laughable that an institution like the Railways that is the backbone of travel in a country where movement of goods and people has increased manifold is begging for funds: transport is a booming business and if the Railways cannot use its monopoly over the tracks to its own financial benefit, no subsidy can save its soul.
The truth of the matter is that Ghulam Bilour, like the previous ministers, is hopeless. He, like most of his cabinet colleagues, has nothing to offer by way of solutions because, like all of them, a ministry is a reward and not a national responsibility. Railways will sink not because of its innate problems but because of the inability and incapacity of a string of useless managers.