Suresh Prabhu, Railway Minister of India, is a man comfortable on the hot seat. The ministry has seen a massive transformation since the time that he took over.
In an interaction with YourStory, he perfectly articulated his ministry’s achievements, his aspirations for the fourth largest railway network in the world, and the personal satisfaction he derives from passengers’ happiness.
Taking stock of all the challenges facing the ministry when he took on the portfolio, Prabhu realised that he had to go beyond the platitudes and show work on the ground. He has brought in many changes to this end.
“In my white paper that I presented three years ago, I mentioned that only 42 percent of railway lines in India are electrified. There are still a lot running on meter gauge. So we wanted to provide a seamless travel, and electrify all non-electric lines in the next five years,” he said, adding that about 16,500km of lines were sanctioned as most lines run on 160-170 percent capacity.
Identifying the need to revamp 400 stations in the country, Prabhu pointed out to all the work going into bolstering them into platforms similar to airports. Besides, coaches are being worked on as well, and e-catering has become one of the biggest highlights. But beyond all this, it is noteworthy to mention the forward-thinking attitude of the minister, who lays emphasis on the need for constant transformation and digitisation using technology. Be it Wi-Fi in stations or using data analytics and enterprise resource planning (ERP) to propel Railways into a profit-making sector, the man has his finger on the pulse.
Stressing the need for his ministry to monetise non-fare initiatives, Prabhu noted the importance of mining data, which he considers is the most important soft asset for Railways. Harnessing the ministry’s wide digital display network—two lakh screens in stations—and vinyl wrap advertising are some of the ways in which the ministry makes non-fare revenue. “I hope to have 25 percent of revenue coming from them in the next five years,” he said.
Perhaps one of the most active ministers on social media, Prabhu has made the ministry trendy, complete with social handles for all the authorities and a quick redressal system that has, time and again, come to the rescue of victims of harassment, sick passengers and those complaining about railway officers dealing in malpractice. “As a minister, I am doing my best. I am driven by the Prime Minister, who is working non-stop. Railways has 13 lakh employees, so it is important to identify goals and align the ministry with a corporate setup,” he pointed out.
On a lighter note, Prabhu confided that although he sleeps well, he is still confronted by nightmares of being unprepared for his CA exam, a hurdle he crossed nearly 40 years ago!