Challenges ahead for Piyush Goyal

Union Minister Piyush Goyal is taking over his new assignment at a time Railways is battling not just an image problem but also an uphill task to transform India’s largest public carrier.

Goyal’s entry coincides with a series of train accidents in the past weeks that cost Suresh Prabhu his portfolio and goodwill he had earned over the years.

The 53-year-old former investment banker, Goyal is entering the Rail Bhavan located near Parliament with an experience of overseeing an “allegation-free” auctions of coal blocks as Coal Minister in the Narendra Modi government.

His performance in the Ministry of Coal, which included increase in coal production and tackling domestic short supplies, acted as a force multiplier for his entry into the elite Cabinet.

However, a challenge awaits Goyal as he is taking over the Railways Ministry at a time it is facing big challenges on safety as well as its business.

The Prime Minister has made the government’s intent clear that they will leave no stone unturned on the overhaul of the Railways with the appointment of Ashok Lohani, known for turning around not-so-well organisations, as the Railway Board Chairman soon after back-to-back train accidents in the third week of August.

Goyal would get the help of Lohani, an Indian Railway Service officer who knows the Railways inside-outside, in setting the agenda for Railways.

The first priority would be take steps to increase safety and ensure that no accidents take place. On his table would be projects like electrification, high speed trains and green corridors.

One of the challenges before Goyal, who is trained in accountancy and law, to increase revenue and reduce expenditure to fight severe fund crunch. With Lok Sabha elections two years away, it could be a herculean task for Goyal to effect a sea-change without any substantial rise in ticket fare.

It is also to be seen whether Goyal would revive the clamour in some sections to privatise Railways or whether he would go in for public-private participation mode. He will also have to look at restructuring manpower in the Railways, which employs 14 lakh people.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Sep 4, 2017)

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