Can Piyush Goyal Deliver on the Challenging Railway Portfolio?
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Sunday’s cabinet reshuffle of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the centre saw a handful of new names on the list, but the big portfolios still remained with the experienced lot. Among them was Piyush Goyal, the coal, power, renewable energy and mines minister, who got to maintain his existing portfolio but has been given the task of restoring and reviving the Indian Railways, which recently saw a spate of accidents, leading to the resignation of Suresh Prabhu, who earlier held the portfolio.
Background and Past Record
A successful chartered account and investment banker, Goyal first came into the limelight during the 2014 general elections, where he spearheaded publicity, advertising and social outreach – a pivotal catalyst that led to BJP’s victory.
Known for his eloquent abilities, he was given charge for three resource-based portfolios, coal, new and renewable energy and mines in May 2014 and has held the sectors till now. Compared to his predecessors, he has been recognized as a go-getter, a politician who believes in making goals that can be practically achieved, even though some his critics have called him ambitious.
Particularly for the power sector, he managed the difficult task of improving accountability and viability in transmission and tariffs through the Udaan scheme. He also revised the government's target of 20,000Mw of solar power by 2022 to five times, and was lauded for holding scam-free auctions in the coal sector. Goyal’s perseverance is said to be the driving force for the turnaround in coal production, that resulted in ample supply, ending domestic supply drought and eventually leading to higher imports.
The Railways Portfolio Challenge
The Railways has always been a challenging portfolio, with many high-profile resignations in the past like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mamata Banerjee and recently Suresh Prabhu. It is not only the country’s largest employer with 1.4 million personnel, but also consists of a mammoth network straddle that stretches over 66,030 km of tracks, the maintenance of which has been under criticism recently.
Senior railway officials post Prabhu’s resignation have opined that taking over the railways portfolio at a time when general elections are just two years away, will be a major challenge. Goyal is not only expected to deliver on reducing accidents on the network, but also execute Modi's pet projects like electrification, high speed trains and green corridors. He additionally has to make sure there isn’t substantial rise in passenger and freight fares while maintaining healthy railway revenues.
What to Expect
Goyal, being the banker he is, has an impressive track record of boosting revenues in the sectors he has been in charge of, along with digitization playing a key role in governance. We can easily expect much ambitious targets for the railways as we did in the power and renewable sector, along with newer digitized means of management of the sector.