In this Walk the Talk on NDTV 24x7, Railways Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal speaks to The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on the hike in rail fares, the proposed tariff authority and the 'politicisation' of the ministry
My guest today is somebody who has the toughest job in 21st century India and, I must say, in 2013, the most exciting-Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal. So tell me, is it the toughest job or the most exciting job?
Well, I won't call it the toughest. It is exciting alright, because for many years, there were things pending in the railways and people's expectations have risen over the years. This is one department that touches the life of every Indian and therefore, there is a lot to be done. You have got to be really aspirational in your approach and our task should be for the new generation-as you said, for the 21st century.
You say it should be aspirational. But, over the years, or say, over the last decade-and-a-half, it's become minimalistic-jo gaadiyan hain woh chalti rahein, chaar-paanch ghante se zyada late na ho, the fares should remain the same and toilets should continue to stink...
There is a lot to be done. If we have a vision for the railways, besides the expansion of the network, which is already vast, what is necessary is that it should be hassle-free travel for the people. The trains, coaches, stations, should be clean. We have made an effort in this direction by starting bio-toilets. This is a huge task. We have 51,000 coaches at present and in the next five years, we have to add at least 25,000 more coaches. Our effort is to add bio-toilets, which are designed by the DRDO, in all coaches in the next 10 years. The bio-toilets are same as the ones that are being used (by defence forces) in Siachen. We have to upgrade the stations as well. There are 7,000 railway stations in the country. We have chosen 900. We have completed work on 600 stations. It's minimal, it's not aspirational.
If we confine ourselves for the moment to the passengers, for the poor and the middle-classes, there is no dignity in railway travel-dhakka-mukki, booking problems, delays. And for the upper crust, railways is not an option anymore.
There is also a lot of pressure for our AC-II class. The fares, even after the hike that I announced, are very low