An Empowered Group of Secretaries under the CEO of the NITI Aayog, and not the Railway Ministry bureaucracy, will now decide how best to develop the country’s railway stations through private participation and bring in private players to run 150 trains.
The Railway Ministry ordered the formation of the committee Thursday, after NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant mooted the idea in a letter to Railway Board Chairman V K Yadav on October 7.
Along with Kant and Yadav, secretaries of the departments of Economic Affairs, Housing and Urban Affairs and the Railway Board Financial Commissioner will be the other members of the committee. The Railway Board’s Member (Engineering) and Member (Traffic) have been co-opted in the committee, as suggested by Kant, since the subjects are the domains of the two Board Members.
“This will provide a thrust to the whole process. We have taken this decision following consultations with everyone,” Yadav told The Indian Express.
Apart from the launch of 150 private trains, the committee will also oversee the development of 50 railway stations and take all critical decisions regarding processes like bidding documents and concessionaire agreements. The station project involves leasing out railway properties worth thousands of crores of rupees.
Kant’s letter had raised red flags over the lack of progress in the Railways’ station redevelopment plan. He had written that the “actual implementation” on the ground has not happened vis-a-vis the original plan to redevelop 400 railway stations.
“Despite the fact that the aforesaid commitment was given for the last several years, actual implementation of the same has not happened except for a few isolated cases in which a few stations have been taken up in EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) mode,” stated the letter.
The letter cited the role played by a similar Empowered Group of Secretaries in the process of privatisation of six airports.
“I had a detailed discussion with the Minister of Railways wherein it was decided that there is a necessity to take up the matter on priority for at least 50 stations. Considering the recent experience in privatisation of six airports, a similar process for setting up an empowered group of secretaries to drive the process is required,” he said in the letter.
While a multi-disciplinary internal vertical in the ministry called the Transformation Cell that reports to the Chairman, Railway Board, has been finalising the engagement of private players to run passenger trains in the future, the station development project has been bogged down since its inception due to various reasons. The cell will continue as the nodal body supporting the committee.
The Union Cabinet had approved the redevelopment of 400 stations in 2015. However, only Habibganj in Bhopal was successfully bid out to a private player for redevelopment on a long-term lease basis. The station is expected to be ready by the end of this year.
Railway officials maintained that the slump in the economy resulted in the programme not meeting with success as the real estate sector did not show interest or appetite to bid for station redevelopment.
There is an item in the PMO-approved 100 days agenda for the Railways that refers to identifying 50 stations for redevelopment. That process has completed, sources said.
Over the years, Gandhinagar station development has been taken up jointly with the Gujarat government. Two stations, Dehradun and Bhubaneswar are slated to be taken up jointly with respective local government bodies for which MoUs have been signed.
A private consultancy firm was engaged a few years ago to suggest the viability of the venture among the 400 stations chosen. Its report suggested that fewer than 100 of the chosen 400 were good enough for redevelopment in the model contemplated.