IR’s 7,000 trains carry three million tonnes of freight daily over an average distance of 620 km, sustaining its agriculture, industry and commerce; another 13,000 passenger trains transport 23 million travellers every day, knitting the country together. Although freight business has been crucial for IR’s financial health, it is passenger segment that directly impacts popular perception.
An endemic shortage of supply. IR’s seven high-density corridors stretched over 10,500 km remain clogged; its stations and maintenance wherewithal over-stretched; train speeds remain low; and services far less than satisfactory.
Passengers face hassles of ticketing, irksome access to large stations, unhygienic and unkempt platforms and coaches and unpunctual trains. Worse, unhygienic food cooked in dirty premises and filthy blankets for AC passengers.
Each passenger train incurs a loss of as much as Rs. 487 (in 2015-16) per km. Resulting into hiking of freight charges and upper class, mostly AC, passenger fares. High freight charges have adversely impacted railway’s business. With low cost air carriers looming large, it must refrain from raising AC train fares. The upper class segment aggregates just 145 million journeys in a year, only 1.8 per cent of IR’s overall riderships, but contribute more than 31 per cent ( Rs. 13,756 crore, in 2015-16) of total passenger earnings.
The number of air passengers, which constituted just about 1 per cent of ‘upper’ class rail passengers in 1950-51, now exceeds 75 per cent, and is poised to surpass the rail share sooner than 2020. Total rail riderships in 2016-17 was 8,219 million, a mere 0.84 per cent more than in 2015-16. As NHDP’s golden quadrilateral network progresses, high-capacity vehicles cover inter-city distances, posing a formidable challenge to IR. Again, in the context of UDAAN riding on the 2016 National Civil Aviation Policy, airlines are weaning away IR’s upper class medium and long haul travellers.
After undergoing some serious pain, passenger traffic on British Rail has risen since 1995, aided by technological improvements in infrastructure and rolling stock, on-time runs, easier ticketing, friendly tariffs, and enhanced ambience of train travel. Chinese Railways separated passenger and freight businesses, increased service speeds, cut train halts, raised passenger fares, effectively discouraged short-distance passengers, and drastically reduced travel times.
Things to do for Indian railways:
Time-tabled freight trains running with credible service guarantees.
Reserved accommodation on passenger trains available on demand.
Average speed of freight trains to rise to 50 km/h (from less than 24 km/h now) and of Mail/Express trains to 80 km/h (from around 60 km/h).
Semi-high speed trains running along the golden quadrilateral.
High-end technology to significantly improve safety.
IR needs to keep its strategy for passenger business simple, to make a perceptible difference in pre-board facilities (booking and reservation, clean station platforms, uncluttered with parcels, vendors or kiosks) and on-board amenities (clean coaches and toilets, good food, besides trains running on time).
It appears feasible to reduce travel time on selected routes straightaway by rationalising halts and easing some speed restrictions and saving substantial time by improving track curves and turn-outs.
Unmanned level crossings can be replaced by overpasses, fencing vulnerable locations, and providing cab signalling, also for automatic train protection. Some trains can run end-to-end with minimum intermediate halts.
As IR sincerely needs to view itself essentially as a commercial entity, pricing its passenger services rationally, it should run a few additional long-distance trains on some highly under-served popular route(s) for all intending passengers to get confirmed accommodation on demand. It may well mean good economics as much as good politics.
Another important aspect IR needs to address on priority is to provide additional terminal facilities, including for maintenance of train sets, for major metros.
Connecting the dots:
Indian railways is facing multiple challenges form other modes of transportation. Discuss why. Also elaborate on much needed reforms which are long pending.
General Studies 3:
Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
General Studies 2:
Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Focusing on tourism sector for job growth
Quentin Jeremy Clerc and Marie Droz came to India to explore its rich history and partake of its storied culture. On October 22 what the Swiss couple experienced instead was the country’s dark underbelly. While on a visit to Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra, they were stalked, harassed and later, assaulted with sticks and stones by a group of locals. The unprovoked attack left Clerc with a fractured skull and Droz, a broken arm. Both of them want to leave India as quickly as possible.
Media reports quoting home ministry data suggest that in 2014 there were 113 incidents of crime against foreign tourists in New Delhi alone. In 2015 it was higher, at 135. Such developments hurt India’s image and raise questions about our culture which teaches us to treat guests as God — Atithi Devo Bhava.
Leveraging tourism for economic development:
We are yet to fully recognise the role tourism plays in economic development and more so, in job creation. The government is yet to leverage tourism’s full potential and inculcating its benefits among the nation’s collective consciousness.
A million youngsters attain working age every month and as many as 100 million jobs need to be created between now and 2025 to avoid what experts are increasingly warning us about — a demographic catastrophe. The reasons being: lack of low-skilled job opportunities outside of agriculture even as skills mismatch and automation hurt the formal sector. Battling ‘jobless growth’, the government has chosen to focus on the employment guarantee scheme in rural India (allocation for MGNREGA has risen by 40 per cent between 2015 and 2018) and other flagship programmes elsewhere across the country such as ‘Make in India’, ‘Startup India’ and a fillip to affordable housing in the last three years.
Tourism as a solution:
Tourism offers the perfect solution.
For every 30 tourists one core tourism job gets created which then helps add another 1.5 jobs in related sectors.
A good portion of the jobs that get generated are low-skilled, for women and for first-time workers — the type of job opportunities that India presently needs.
The sector also has the potential to create micro-entrepreneurs who in turn can employ more people. The multiplier effect it delivers is high.
In fact, tourism helped Spain which receives over 68 million international tourists annually (India, in comparison, gets 8.80 million visitors) fight its recent economic downturn. Understandably, the sector accounts for 5.8 per cent of Spain’s GDP as against India’s 2 per cent. According to the World Tourism Organisation, the sector provides for 10 per cent of the world’s GDP, 7 per cent of the global trade and creates one in every 11 jobs worldwide. In 2015 tourism created 107 million jobs worldwide and supported 284 million other jobs. The International Labour Organisation estimates these numbers will grow to 136 million and 370 million respectively by 2026. Policymakers need to get their act together now if India has to corner a fair share of these jobs.
As per the rankings of World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, the Government need to focus on the not-so-good performance in following parameters:
The country ranks a low 103 on presence of an enabling environment for tourism (even Rwanda, Iran and Algeria outrank us).
It is 104 when it comes to how actively the Government promotes the sector.
With regard to safety and security the performance is a low 114 (we have Colombia, Yemen, Nigeria, Lebanon and Pakistan for company). In health and hygiene, we are ranked 104 and in environment sustainability 134 (only Kuwait and Yemen are below us).
It is time the Government gives the same importance to the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report as it does to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings. For the record, India jumped 12 places to rank 40th among 136 countries in the 2017 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness rankings (Spain topped the chart).
Connecting the dots:
A robust tourism sector can help overcome the challenge of job-less growth in India. Discuss. Also elaborate on reforms required in this regard.
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