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New rail minister Suresh Prabhu promises to deliver on safety, customer satisfaction

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s new railway minister Suresh Prabhu, who assumed charge of the ministry today, promised to bring about all-round development of the national transporter with a special focus on safety and customer satisfaction.

Prabhu, who broke his 18-year old tie with Shiv Sena to join the BJP before being sworn in, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants the railways’ condition to change. “Our focus areas will be customer service and railway safety as passenger safety is increasingly becoming an area of concern,” he said.

He added that the government in the past had faced many challenges in running the railways but the transporter has enough potential which has not been properly utilized. “Railways are an integrating factor of the economy. Addressing the concerns of the railways workforce will be a priority,” Prabhu, who replaced Sadananda Gowda, said. Rail ministry officials hailed the minister’s focus on safety.

Prabhu would be heading the rail ministry at a time when declining passenger volumes coupled with higher freight rates have squeezed earnings even as high fuel and manpower costs have led to ballooning of expenditure. Amid these constraints, the railways is struggling to meet the current fiscal’s targeted Operating Ratio of over 92 per cent.

Prime Minister Modi is understood to have been keen to induct Prabhu — a Chartered Accountant and former head of the Saraswat Bank whose performance in key ministries in the NDA-I was praised by all parties. The 61- year old is credited with initiating big-ticket reforms as power minister, including the Electricity Act of 2003, under the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Prabhu had earlier taken charge of the environment and forest portfolio in 1998 in the Vajpayee government before being given the chemicals and fertilizers ministry in 1999. A year later, Prabhu was handed the charge of the power ministry before being made the Chairman of the Task Force on inter-linking of river projects. He also handled the Heavy Industries portfolio in the Vajpayee regime.

Under Modi, Prabhu was first appointed the Chairman of the Advisory Group on Integrated Development of Power, Coal and Renewable Energy and later appointed the “Sherpa” to assist the PM at the upcoming G20 summit in Brisbane. He had recently cancelled his visit to Wharton School as a mark of protest against the cancellation of Modi’s keynote address at the Wharton India Economic Forum 2013.

Prabhu’s selection in the Modi’s cabinet has apparently irked Shiv Sena whose 25 year old tie with the BJP has been on a downslide recently. BJP had formally snapped ties with Shiv Sena on 25 September, three weeks before the October 15 assembly elections in Maharashtra.

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