October 22, 2015

Indian Railways may go into ‘debt-trap, become Air India’

Indian Railways, the country’s largest employer, may go into a ‘debt-trap’ and ‘become an Air India’ due to the present Suresh Prabhu-led ministry’s policy of borrowing, former rail minister Dinesh Trivedi said while sounding a strong note of caution on the issue of a dip in its revenue.

“I think Indian Railways is absolutely in the dumps… railways is going the Air India way, in short. You can perhaps live without Air India, but not without Indian Railways,” he told PTI on the sidelines of an event late last evening.

“You would be in a debt trap. Absolute debt trap,” warned Trivedi, who was replaced as Indian Railways minister by the previous UPA government after he presented what analysts had welcomed as being a reformist budget.

Trivedi, who authored a parliamentary panel report in April raising concerns about railways’ operations, said that there has been a dip in revenues from both passenger and freight operations and that has led to a situation where we are staring at the operating ratio (OR) shooting above the 100 mark.

“Unfortunately, it (Indian Railways) is again under a severe financial crisis. Its OR u2013- money spent to earn Rs 100 -u2014 has deteriorated to 93.6, the ratio of net revenue to capital is 5.6 per cent and the surplus was only Rs 3,740 crore in 2013-14,” Trivedi’s committee had said in its 85-page report.

The Indian Railways is relying on excess borrowing to see it through this, rued the Trinamool Congress MP from West Bengal.

Asked about the massive plans for borrowing from the market, including from life insurance giant LIC, Trivedi said one should not be carried away by the provision for a moratorium.

“When you are borrowing from LIC and paying 9 per cent, there could be a moratorium now, but after the moratorium you need to pay back,” he said.

Saying that the solution for railways lay in understanding the strengths of the system, Trivedi alleged that the political system, however, was failing to do so.

“You have to understand the strength of Indian Railways. But I am afraid the political system is not understanding it, that is, the one which is going to kickstart the economy. You cannot Make in India without Railways,” he said.

Trivedi alleged that the Centre was neglecting both the railways and agriculture, which he said were key to pushing employment generation and GDP growth.

Asked about reports suggesting a change of guard in rail ministry, he said, “By changing one minister with another without changing the mindset, nothing will happen.”

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