Sunday, July 6, 2014

Railway Budget 2014: Narendra Modi hints at more private sector role in railways

5 Jul, 2014, 0553 hrs IST, Masood Hussain, ET Bureau
Modi said India should evolve a separate policy for the development of hilly regions and there is a strong possibility of private sector participation in railways.
KATRA: Days before the maiden railway budget of his government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hinted at more private sector role in railways as he chose to give politics a skip in a much-awaited speech in the strife-torn state of Jammu & Kashmir.

Flagging off a train that for the first time is connecting the Vaishno Devi shrine in Katra with the rest of the country, Modi said India should evolve a separate policy for the development of hilly regions and there is a strong possibility of private sector participation in railways.

The prime minister said he will adhere to Atal Bihari Vajpayee's doctrine of development as the solution for "J&K's innumerable issues", which he said was the only way to win the hearts of the state's people.

Modernisation of Railway Stations

"India's every citizen wants the people of J&K to be happy and prosperous," Modi said during his maiden visit. "Vajpayee made a beginning and we will continue it." "From J&K to North East, Himalayan states have different problems than the rest of the states," the PM said, adding "If we have a common development model for these states, it will become easier for people to understand their issues."

Modi said the process of modernising the railway stations in metropolitan cities and some key stations like Jammu will start soon. "They can be (made) better than airports because these are not difficult jobs and these are economically viable projects in which even private parties can invest because these are win-win situation projects," Modi said.

He was responding to J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah's demand that the Jammu railway station requires immediate upgrade. "We want the railway stations to have better facilities than airports. I have discussed it in detail with my friends in railways. You will see a change in near future," Modi added.

Placing the railways at the centre of ecological balance, Modi said that it is not just a means of communication but a major highway of development. "Wait for next 10 years and see how this rail line changes the place," Modi said after launching the train, which he insisted be named Shree Shakti Express. "Businessmen know where to invest and I checked here they have already done it." Modi said the Katra railway station will soon be a fully solar-powered one so that "it creates a model".

While his emphasis remained on the development triggered by better communication infrastructure, Modi hinted at some of the policy shifts that NDA might implement in coming days.

In response to the issue flagged by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that Jammu has a feeling that extension of rail to Katra might reduce it to the status of Pathankot. Allaying Abdullah's fears of negative impact of the Katra line on Jammu, Modi said: "I don't believe that people who come to Katra will not go to Jammu. There will not be any negative impact and Jammu's development will not be stalled."

Jammu fears it might undergo a similar crisis faced by Pathankot earlier once the railhead moves to Katra and later to Srinagar. Pathankot, the Punjab town at the J&K border, was a bustling business hub till it was the last rail destination. Once the line was extended to Jammu, the town's economy fell flat.

"This is the only state that has two hearts," Abdulah said. "We have taken up various projects to undo the impact, if any." "Today I may not talk (on other issues facing J&K) because Mata (Vaishno Devi) might dislike it," he said while concluding his brief speech. "If I could ever get an opportunity, some time (in future), I will talk." The sentence was a polite reaction against Modi keeping the host at an arm's length during his maiden visit.

Abdullah received the prime minister at Jammu and was part of the functions at Katra and Uri besides being invited to the lunch by Raj Bhawan. But he was associated neither with Prime Minister's meeting with soldiers at the 15 corps headquarters nor with the formal meeting planned with his government to understand the issues that J&K faces.

Party insiders said Omar being the head of the Unified Headquarters should have been associated with the interactions between the prime minister and the soldiers. "It has never happened and it is not a good precedence," a cabinet minister, who was part of the reception at Srinagar airport, said. "You can not destroy the established systems."

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