With Piyush Goyal at the helm, the top brass of railways should prepare to deal with a hard taskmaster who will thrash issues in marathon meetings and use his deep understanding of finance and banking to push novel ideas down the bureaucratic system.
The railways staff should also brace for some ambitious targets, which may seem impossible to start with, like it happened in renewable energy.
Further, Goyal, the new cabinet minister of railways and coal, is fond of making a digital attack on opaque processes with apps that will give real-time data and make it difficult for vested interests to thrive at the cost of consumers.
With coal giving nearly half of railway freight revenue, there’s synergy in the two portfolios Goyal now holds, but on top of his agenda would be railway safety.
In the last three years, there have been 115 accidents every year on an average in which at least 650 people have been killed. Goyal will also have to deliver on the promises of fancy bullet trains, improved passenger amenities and modern stations made by the Narendra Modi government. During his tenure as the minister for coal, power and renewable energy (and later mines), Goyal rationalised the supremely inefficient system of power plants buying coal from a mine thousands of kilometres away, while a nearby mine shipped it to another distant power station by rail.
Linking power plants to nearby mines helped electricity generation at the cost of railways — a situation he will now view from the other side. When Goyal took charge of power, coal and renewable energy in 2014, the youthful and energetic minister of state was handling a complex, reform-resistant and scandal-prone domain that was divided between three cabinet ministers in the past.
He unveiled transparent auctions for coal mines, giving instructions to bureaucrats that the system should be designed in a way that gives the minister no power to influence the process. He introduced auctions in solar energy projects, helping tariffs tumble to record lows, and this year brought the same for wind energy projects.
Goyal took on the might of Chinese solar equipment producers who were decimating local manufacturers. One of the last major decisions of the renewable energy ministry under him was an order that all solar equipment must abide by the norms of the Bureau of Indian Standards – failing which the equipment should be destroyed.
He earlier said foreign companies would not be allowed to participate in projects if their country did not allow Indian firms to compete in that market, a move that rattled Chinese firms. Read more