Indian Railways: a vast bureaucracy tries to get back on track

By Henny Sender

When Suresh Prabhu became the Indian railways minister just over a year ago, he inherited an empire with 1.3m staff and even more pensioners; tracks that stretch for the equivalent of one and a half times the circumference of the globe; and 21,000 trains.

Sadly for both Mr Prabhu and his country, such remarkable reach — China’s People’s Liberation Army is one of the few bodies that has more workers — comes with a notorious bureaucracy attached. It took 18 months, for instance, to decide whether the mugs in the washrooms of second class sleepers should be attached to the wall by chains, while a decision on charging points for mobile phones needs to be made at the very top of the hierarchy.

Immersed in what amounts to an organisational case study of elephantine proportions, Mr Prabhu admits the need for greater speed. “These are the soft issues where we have to accelerate decision making,” he says. Many others depend on his progress. “Only the minister can eliminate such red tape,” says Anant Swarup, the wonderfully titled Executive Director, Public Grievances to Minister of Railways.

If India is to get its economic act in order, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India campaign is to become reality rather than just rhetoric, India will need to improve its infrastructure. But no area is in more need of improvement than the railways. More info


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