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This was clear from the repeated reference to use of technology as Prabhu read out the Railway Budget for 2015-16 on Thursday and from the slew of technological initiatives that have been announced. This is in line with the bigger agenda of the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre with its ongoing missions around Digital India and Make in India.
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From online booking of bed linen and food to a mobile application for passenger complaints to a 24*7 helpline number to bar-coded/RFID tracking of parcels and freight wagons to a train protection warning system and a train collision avoidance system, technology will find use under the watch of Prabhu, whose aim seems to be fixing the broken parts of the railways instead of a radical revamp.
“Every dynamic and thriving organisation needs to innovate and reinvent its practices… we intend to set up an innovation council called Kayakalp for the purpose of business re-engineering and introducing a spirit of innovation in the railways,” Prabhu said.
He added investments would be made in fundamental and applied research for seeking solutions to rail-specific issues. “We intend to set up a technology portal to invite innovative technological solutions,” the minister said.
An information technology vision for the Railways will be unveiled soon and a five-year budgetary allocation of Rs 5,000 crore has been made for technology and research.
Right at the onset Prabhu said he had invited views through the social media and received some 20,000 suggestions, many of which had found a mention in the budget. He followed it up by a “talkathon” on Twitter with the public on Thursday evening.
“From a vision and articulation point of view, it was very much a high-technology budget. These are not just incremental changes, there was a wow factor for sure,” said Jaijit Bhattacharya, partner, government advisory, KPMG.
He added that not just ICT technology had been talked about but also high-end technology, be it vacuum toilets or semi-high-speed rail. “It is all in the right direction, though the bigger concern is the implementation part of it,” Bhattacharya said.
The facility of online booking of disposable bedrolls and food is being extended to all passengers through the IRCTC portal. Passengers will now be able to register general complaints through an all India 24X7 helpline number, 138, and security related ones through a number, 182, in real time. A mobile application is also being developed and will be piloted on Northern Railway from next month. Booking of unreserved tickets will be made easier through an ‘Operation Five Minutes’ at stations while bookings through smartphones will also be explored.
After revamping and expanding the capacity of IRCTC, the possibility of making it multi-lingual is being considered.
Hand-held terminals will be provided to travelling ticket examiners, which will help curtail use of paper and help in refunds. A centrally managed Railway Display Network is expected to be introduced at over 2,000 stations over the next two years, which will aid in providing information on train arrival/departure, reservations, general and emergency messages and could result in advertising revenue for the railways. An SMS alert is also being considered for the same purpose. Keeping in mind women passengers, surveillance cameras will be provided on a pilot basis in select mainline coaches and ladies’ compartments of suburban coaches without compromising on privacy.
After wi-fi was introduced at A1 and A category stations, it will now be extended to B category stations as well. Also, online information on latest berth availability on running trains, an integrated mobile application, including station navigation system, will be made available. To derive better efficiencies, bar-coded/RFID tracking of parcels and freight wagons, automated parcel warehouses, and customer relationship management system are also in the offing.
All these measures, while aiding in the turnaround of the railways, will provide a fillip to the domestic business operations of technology companies.