The Laws Consolidating India’s largest railway network
Written By: Khushi Gupta
The Indian Railways stands fourth in the list of countries having the largest railway network in the world, with its 65,000km of the railway network. This is not where it ends though, the railways are growing, ever-increasing, and doing so at a fast rate with increasing staff, pension money, more trains, and a whole lot of traffic. But, the picture is not all green, the operating surplus of railways is low at 90%, indicating that the railways are engaged in heavy borrowing. Moreover, the traffic is seeing a shift from preferring planes to trains. The freighting costs are ever high and the number of tragedies has also deterred the common folk. People are seeing airplanes as a better alternative for travel, with the cost difference closing up.
When such a large network is run it is bound to bump into troubles, thus it requires a comprehensive set of laws to govern and prevent conflicts. Do these laws help in running the largest railway network?
The trail of the railways
The first train of India ran on 16 April 1853 from Mumbai’s Bori Bunder to Thane in Maharashtra, run by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway. Four hundred people only had the privilege to be a part of that historical journey. Since then, there has hardly been any turning back, the government of India has made more than 100 railway stations at a world-class level, with free wifi at almost all the stations, the punctuality of trains has been paid more attention with curing 95% of late incidents, the safety of people has also not been ignored with a reduction in the manned crossing of tracks to at least 37%.
The government has included a lakh crore of funds in the budget to go to ensure the safety of passengers traveling via rail. Casualties have reduced by almost 50% from being 693 in 2009 to come down to 304 in 2017.
This growth has another side too, that might not be all green. The rail network currently faces huge capacity constraints, and the high-density network (the network that connects metros) has already reached saturation. With high levels of capacity utilization and the introduction of new trains, trains tend to slow down and affect the quality of services. Despite the increase in budget, there remains a poor investment in relation to the need of the gigantic railways, Poor finances of Railways had led to low investment in infrastructure. Low investment means Railways’ infrastructure and services take a hit (resulting in low speed, delays, and safety issues).
Steel track of Laws
The courts have made significant contributions to Railways to ensure safety and progress here, just in 2016, Justice A.S. Bopanna of Karnataka High Court responded positively to a petition by Railways Authorities themselves to discontinue the practice of attaching bogies to the engine while in motion, the High Court saw the danger lurking around this practice and noted the section 187 of the Railway Act which actively prohibits the carrying of extra goods on track while the train is in motion and thus passed the order to discontinue it, increasing the safety of people while making it easier for the railways.
In the case of Nareshbhai Bhagubhai vs Union Of India (Supreme Court), the court kept the law updated by mandating the authorities to award compensation under section 20(g) of the Railway Act at the market value assessed at the time of compensation. This increased the amount at the inflated rate thus proving beneficial to the public.
These obiter dicta passed by the courts prove really beneficial to make the system strong as they work on the loopholes and derive places to work on.
Off-the-track to On-the track
The 1853 system dependent on staff and buildings have entered the virtual world of ease. The e-tickets as a way have become easier now, with automated ticket vending machines increasing from 776 in 2009 to 2874 in 2017. This has also marked a stark increase in people who have used these services, the e-ticket sales have increased from an average of 42.4 in 2009 to be 57.7 in 2017, this proves the growing interest of people to go online or track. At the same time, the railways have not only recognized these needs and demands of people but have also expanded their working, with the creation of such systems and servers that can handle more than a lakh users at the same time, this technology is also ever-growing for railways.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic affected the ease of e-ticket, forcing people who haven’t booked tickets in a long time to go through the tedious verification they went before. The railways however came up with a system that identifies the people by cutting the verification process to just a mobile number and email address. This verification process will be done with a one-time password (OTP) for both mobile number and email address. This little change has further solidified the offered online ease of things, solidifying the railway network as a whole.
Coach for Improvement?
The organizational structure of Railways needs an overhaul to create a structure that is more conducive for nimble decision making and is more accountable. Currently, decision-making in Railways is centralized. The Railway Board has the powers of policymaking, operations, and regulation. Railway zones have very limited powers with regard to raising their own revenue. Therefore, they are unable to contribute more effectively towards improving Railways’ revenue. Further, apart from its core function of running trains, Railways also engages in peripheral activities such as running schools, and hospitals, staff housing, catering, and security.
The Railway network of India is not only complicated in terms of its track, but even in its abstract form, it is an ever-growing system with all the complexities of laws and rules, governed by a larger network of authorities, officials, and courts. Just like any other system in the world, it has some strengths and some weaknesses to work upon, and just like any other system, this is where the laws work their magic.