Kharge may drive Rlys with populist agenda

He is most likely to revert to non-corporate policies

Kharge may drive Rlys with populist agenda

By appointing Mallikarjun Kharge rail minister, the Congress party has shown some change in its approach towards Railways ahead of the 2014 elections.  Kharge, who has shown his pro-worker stance in his earlier assignment in the labour ministry, is most likely to revert to non-corporate policies.

 He may announce some programmes like cheaper food and better amenities for passengers to give some electoral mileage to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
However, Kharge will have to face the challenge of striking a  balance between pro-privatisation pressures from the Montek Singh Ahluwalia-led Planning Commission and policies of running Railways as a public service.

Another big challenge would be to make Railways free from corruption in appointments at higher levels which marred the image of the state-owned enterprise during the tenure of Pawan Kumar Bansal. It not only caused the exit of Bansal but inflicted severe dent to the image of the ruling party.

Railways have been under severe economic strain and the Planning Commission is not ready to allow it further to go that way.  Mamata Banerjee refused to yield to such pressures and withdrew Dinesh Trivedi when he hiked passenger fare. Trivedi, in fact, was dotting the lines of  Montek. Bansal, a known prime minister’s man, went by whatever he was advised by the plan panel.

Bansal was vigorously pursuing projects in the public-private partnership (PPP) mode.  He was also in the process of regularising mechanism of automatic revision of passenger fare. How Kharge looks at these policies would be interesting.

To get the ministry out of the demoralisation it has suffered recently owing to the bribery scam, he will have to put in place a transparent mechanism for appointment of people at the levels of Railway Board Chairman, Railway Board Members and General Managers. This would be most tricky  as vested interest in the ministry would try to obstruct it.

Vacancies to be filled

“I will give priority to fill up vacancies in Railway Board as soon as possible,” Kharge told reporters after the reshuffle.

The new rail minister also said that he would try to improve the performance of railways during his stint. “Whatever time is available now, I will try to do my best,” he said.

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