Former Managing Director of Konkan Railway and pioneer of the Skybus Rajaram Bojji, popularly known as B Rajaram wrote an open letter to new Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu with practical suggestions and possibilities for drastically improving the Indian Railways
Rajaram Bojji or B Rajaram, inventor of the indigenous & cost-effective anti-collision device (ACD) technology and former managing director, Konkan Railway has written an open letter to Suresh Prabhu, the new Minister for Railways. In the letter, Mr Bojji has provided practical suggestion to improve the Indian Railways.
Shri Suresh Prabhu,
Minister of Railways,
Dear Shri Prabhu,
“I am personally very happy that a person like you, with balance in thought and speech will head the tough Railway Ministry. Many will rush to advise you, but the very size of the system could overwhelm anyone, with the Railway Board making life miserable by dumping you with day to day operational problems and mishaps.
Midnight calls would likely keep you awake.
I just want to share some ideas and advice more as an old friend. Suppose I happen to be in your shoes what I would do?
Here are some brief action points. We all know that the Railways need modernization. However, our Railway Board is busy building its own individual departmental empire. Too many committees have come out with voluminous or simplistic reports. Give more money or import is the solution they come up with and grand numbers like Rs1 lakh crore. But what about viability?
In my opinion, it is irresponsible to give financially suicidal recommendations. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is glibly talked about and immediately our babus push for foreign technology based brand new workshops or manufacturing facilities, with guaranteed cash outflow but without guaranteed performance levels of output to improve revenues or safety. I suggest FDI or public-private-partnership (PPP) should always be based on the principle of assuring least financial burden on the Railways in particular and on the nation more generally.
Some examples of effective application of FDI and PPP:
1. Modernization of technology for coaches and locomotives:-
Existing manufacturing facilities all be handed over in exchange for equity stake, to modern technology providers creating a technology upgradation PPP. Every 5 years, technology modernisation cycle should be planned. Export to foreign markets, Make in India also should be a condition. Our assets, valued at current prices, be handed over and any profit the PPP makes will be shared by the Railways. Assured order quantity be committed in return for the above. The FDI has to be accepted only from technology leaders in that area. It is not money, but technology we need. No fresh land or structures are needed. Instead of one-time technology upgradation, we will get assured technology upgradation for a longer period. We will also save on staff costs and material costs. Current staff should be offered VRS or relocation. The FDI PPP may re-engage with better salaries for deserving staff.
2. Case of keeping stations clean:
Adjust current costs (like maintenance, cleaning, managing security , parking facilities, food sales, parcel management, etc) for inflation and make it an annual guaranteed payment. Assets of the station and the land around should be valued at current market prices and treated as stake of railway in the proposed JV. Private party with sound financial standing should be invited to form PPP to provide modernization of station equipment like escalators, retiring rooms, cafeteria facilities, refurbished flooring and lighting, and with quality of service certified by a third party like Technischer Überwachungsvereina (TUV). The income stream for this JV company is the guaranteed cash inflow from Railways, the proceeds of platform access charges for non passengers, cafeteria food sales, commercial exploitation of land attached to station. This PPP JV can raise debt funding based on capital at charge for modernizing the station facilities to improve revenues. As major equity holder, Railways will share profits of the company, but will not be part of management. The company board will have a Railways representative. This step can unlock the unearned value of railway properties in and around stations and change face of the Railways.
3. Medical Organisation:
Railways has more doctors than officers running railways. The hospitals too are well developed and sit on prime properties. All the real estate should be transferred at current market value along with the equipment into a JV. With a well recognized hospital and medical healthcare management company, all Railways doctors should be offered alternate placement in the PPP JV. Similar to station service management, the JV will use this equity base to raise funds in the market, modernizes streamline and offer better quality service to railway employees. What is the assured revenue stream? Here gain take the current cash outflow on medical services and offer the same for each Zonal Railway to to set up a JV on this basis. Further commercial exploitation of lands also be allowed. Railways will hold a major share in the company and automatically get profit shares. So all medical services in railways thus will get managed by 10 or 15 PPP mode JVs. Again Railways by agreement shall not be in management. Only Board of Directors of each company will have Railways representatives. Digital networking, telemedicine and smoother workflow, shall be part of the agreementm with medical records of employees becoming accessible all over India. The company should be allowed to take outside patients too, as paying customers, including foreign patients. Medical tourism should be actively encouraged. All this, without neglecting railway employee interests.
4. Railway Colonies:
Even today, huge land space is occupied by railway colonies with sprawling bungalows. It's time we form a JV with our land and buildings valued at current market prices, with private real estate companies. For railway officers and staff, modern flats with amenities can come up, increasing capacity and providing excellent facilities by land reuse. Old and difficult to maintain bungalow culture must be done away with. More green space, biking tracks, neater and tidier roads with lighting should be built. Apart from the assured cash inflow at current costs, being incurred by the Railways, the PPP can generate additional revenue streams by building modern supermarkets, high-end entertainment and shopping malls in the land released. Funds can be easily raised because of the heavy equity base of Railway assets transferred at market rates. The rent payments of employees will go to the company. The company becomes responsible for maintenance, water supply, sanitation etc. Railways again gets share of profits. Saves staff costs and material costs as well as contractual costs of maintaining huge colonies with major concentrations of employees.
5. Track machines, track laying equipment, welding and ballasting:
Railways should not own any of the above. Transfer all related equipment to a JV with PPP . Provide assured cash flow in terms of current cash outflow for promised outputs as laid down today. Modernization of equipment, improved productivity, assured quality can be well defined and third party quality assurance certification part of deal. New line construction also is to be handled by these JVs. Profits will be shared by Railways as stakeholder. But no management participation by Railways except representation in Board of Directors of the JV company. For the entire Indian Railways, about 10 or 12 companies can be supported.
Electrification too can follow the above model by collaborating with zonal level service providers through JVs.
7. Improving speeds, throughput and safety:
Get rid of fixed signals, have cab signalling, moving block system for train operations. Indigenous technology is available and has been tried for 160 kmph speed successfully. Railways should use the advanced version of ACD (Anti-Collission Device), India's own technology.
Average speeds can be raised by 30 to 50% for goods and passenger trains, as well as doubling capacity.
This would cost less than one-third the imported alternative technologies. And we already have rolling stock technology for 160 kmph speeds, which can be upgraded to 180 kmph.
Safety needs to be assured by adopting Safety Integrity Level (SIL) of 2/3 of CENELEC certification, not by RDSO.
8. Make Zonal Railway Departments centres of responsibility and authority:
Most important step is to make zonal railway a centre of responsibility and authority. Wide area digital networking on the lines of Konkan Railways, integrating all facets of railway operations, must be implemented.
With these measures, Railways can create profit centers from current cost centers. Efficiency will improve, people will see a new face of Railways to be proud of. This would be financially sound too!”
(Rajaram Bojji or B Rajaram as he is known popularly, is former managing director of the Konkan Railway and also inventor of ACD Technology and Skybus)
Only a strong event or news can drive the market significantly higher
In line with what we mentioned in Tuesday’s closing report, the Indian indices opened higher and broke the previous lifetime high it hit on Monday. However, lower volumes supported the rise today on the Nifty. The surge in the morning session to the new lifetime high was followed by a gradual move down. However, the benchmark indices managed closing in the green.
S&P BSE Sensex opened at 27,959 and moved from a high of 28,126 to a low of 27,959 and closed near the day’s low at 28,009 (up 99 points or 0.35%). NSE’s CNX Nifty opened at 8,379 and hit a high of 8,415, and moved lower to the level of 8,371 finally closing at 8,383 (up 21 points or 0.25%). NSE recorded a lower volume of 92.07 crore shares. India VIX fell 2.47% to close at 14.4350.
The government unveiled industrial production data for September 2014 today. IIP growth for September 2014 was at 2.5%, compared to 0.4% recorded in the month of August. September IIP was above estimates.
The CPI (consumer price index) inflation stood at 5.52% in the month of October as compared to 6.46% reported in the month of September.
The empowered committee of state finance ministers on goods & services tax (GST) at its meeting held on Tuesday reportedly agreed on the 'place of supply' rules that form the backbone of the proposed GST.
The Petroleum Ministry, in a notification, relaxed rigid timelines prescribed in the production sharing contract (PSC) for development and production of oil and gas.
Bayer CropScience (10.35%) was the top gainer in the ‘A’ group on BSE. The stock hit its 52-week high today. After market hours on Tuesday, the company came out with its September 2014 quarter results. It posted a net profit of Rs 176.10 crore for the September 2014 quarter, compared to Rs 116.50 crore for the September 2013 quarter.
Sales increased from Rs 1,050.40 crore to Rs 1,241.00 crore for the relevant period.
Hindustan Construction (4.49%) was the top loser in the ‘A’ group on BSE. It informed BSE that Lavasa Corporation Limited, its subsidiary, received observation letter from SEBI for its proposed initial public offering of equity shares, for an amount not exceeding Rs 750 crore.
Axis Bank (3.02%) was the top gainer in the Sensex 30 pack. It hit its 52-week high today. Cipla (3.06%) was the top loser among the Sensex 30 stocks.
US indices closed in the positive on Tuesday. The National Federation of Independent Business said that its small-business optimism index rose 0.8 points to 96.1 in October, a two-month high.
Philadelphia Fed's President, Charles Plosser, today said US interest rates should be raised "sooner rather than later." In a speech in London, Plosser said rising rates are not inconsistent with a continuing recovery.
Asian indices showed a mixed performance. Shanghai Composite (1%) was the top gainer while Taiwan Weighted (1.28%) was the top loser.
There is a growing anticipation that Japananese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will postpone a planned sales tax hike to avoid damaging a fragile recovery.
European indices were trading in the red. US Futures too were trading lower.
In a major boost to citizens and activists, a Committee set up by DoPT has recommended that there is no provision in the RTI Act or Rules to make any standard format for applications and so it should be done away with
Many Right to Information (RTI) applicants in Maharashtra and perhaps in other States where a standard format has been laid out by the respective governments face problems if they do not abide by it. Now, however, they are not bound by such a diktat, as a Committee appointed by the Department of Personnel & Training ( DOPT) has made it clear that no such provision (for specific format) exists in the RTI Act.
In the summary of the report issued by DoPT on 11th November, which will soon be circulated to the Public Authorities as guidelines, the Department clearly stated, “There should not be a model/ standard format for reply to the RTI application, as there is no such provision in the RTI Act or the RTI rules.”
The observations/ recommendations of the DoPT appointed Committee, instituted to evolve model format for RTI replies, comprised representatives of the Department, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Central Information Commission (CIC) and was submitted on 29th October.
Similarly, the Committee has recommended that the Public Information Officer (PIO) too need not have any typical format for replying though relevant details should be given in the reply and relevant sections should be quoted in case of denial of information.
After the circular of 17th October in Maharashtra by the state government, regarding, non-disclosure of “personal” details under RTI Act, there has been a lot of confusion and suppressing of information by the PIOs. Now, that this relevant and pro-public guidelines have been uploaded on the DoPT website, one hopes the Maharashtra government would issue a formal note.
Leading RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, says, “The state government, which has been issuing circulars by the dozens on issues like removing Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) from the RTI Act or confusing PIOs with the ‘personal’ information circular, should now gracefully make this important pro-people circular known through media and official websites of all public authorities. People are still harassed in case they do not file the RTI application in the required format as has been laid down by the state government.”
RTI activist and research scholar, Venkatesh Nayak though says that the DoPT did not do public consultation, before issuing the note. “The Government has issued guidelines for PIOs on how to reply to RTI applications. Strangely, the Committee comprising of a few government representatives has issued these guidelines without any consultation with others on the supply and demand side of information. While the guidelines are not bad, they are minimalistic. Civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists could have provided better advice to the Committee, if only if they had advertised this Committee's constitution. So much, for compliance with the consultation policy that was announced in January this year.”
Following are the observations of the Committee:
I. There is neither any provision in the RTI Ad or RTI Rules for a model/standard format of RTI application nor any provision for a model/standard format for reply to the RTI applications.
II. Presently, neither any standard practice nor any standard format is being used by the CPIOs in reply to the RTI applications.
In view of the above observations, the Committee has made the following recommendations :
a) There should not be a model/standard format for reply to the RTI application, as there is no such provision in the RTI Act or the RTI rules.
b) Moreover, keeping in view that there is no standard format for RTI applications, there could not be a standard format for their reply.
c) However, the following points can be uniformity adopted by the CPIOs while replying to the RTI applications:
i. The name, designation, official telephone no. and email I.D. of the CPIOs should be clearly mentioned.
ii. In case the information requested for is denied, reasons for denial quoting the relevant sections of the RTI Ad should be clearly mentioned.
iii. In case the information pertains to other public authority and the application is transferred under section 6 (3) of the RTI Act, details of the public authority to whom the application is transferred should be given.
iv. In the concluding para of the reply, there should be clearly mentioned that the First Appeal, if any, against the reply of the CPIO may be made to the First Appellate Authority within 30 days of receipt of reply of CPIO.
v. The name, designation, address, official telephone no. and e-mail I.D. of the First Appellate Authority should also be clearly mentioned.
vi. Wherever the applicant has requested for certified copies of the documents or records, the CPIO should certify the documents or records by putting a seal of his name, designation and signing with date. Above the seal, the remarks that "documents/records provided under the RTI Act" should be endorsed.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)