Among Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ministers, Piyush Goyal has been consistently rewarded through elevations in the Union council of ministers. The move to the railway ministry, replacing Suresh Prabhu, while retaining the coal portfolio, comes with a Cabinet rank for the 53-year-old Rajya Sabha member of Parliament from Maharashtra. In the July 2016 reshuffle, he got independent charge as Minister of State with the Ministry of Mines in addition to his earlier portfolios of power, coal and renewable energy.
The railway ministry and its ministers are always in public glare, not only because of the high-profile nature of the assignment but the public interface of the national transporter. For Goyal, the ministry offers an opportunity to be more hands-on in infrastructure creation and its strengthening.
Despite all the close monitoring of his earlier ministries and launch of initiatives such as debt restructuring under Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana, energy efficiency and green energy programmes, power being a concurrent subject can limit a minister’s achievements.
The Railways, by contrast, a central subject, gives Goyal an opportunity to lead a mammoth organisation in need of an urgent revamp. Marred by its safety and cleanliness record, the ministry, however, has more performance pressure than any of Goyal’s earlier assignments.
A law graduate from the Mumbai University, Goyal is a chartered accountant and brings with him skills of a thinking minister. “I will first study the ministry,” said Goyal. A slowing economy will impact its freight business, while the failure of dynamic pricing has seen the Railways losing its business to airlines. Its efficiency continues to be low with an operating ratio of over 94 per cent.
Besides, the challenge will not just come from dealing with public pressure of providing an efficient and safe transport, but also tackling the railway bureaucracy, already peeved at strings now being pulled by the Ministry of Finance and the prime minister’s office.