India’s 1st Railway University to Come up in Vadodara, Gujarat
Railways were first set up in India in 1853 by the British administration. The first stretch to be covered by the rail network in the country was between Mumbai and Thane. The key purposes of facilitating such a major infrastructural development were facilitation of administration, enabling the modern postal network, and facilitating transport of commodities for trade by the British. Coming from these modest beginnings, the Indian Railways now cover over 40,000 miles of tracks and are used by 18 million people each day. The rail network coverage of India connects the interior most villages and rural regions of the country with the burgeoning metros and cities of the country. Indian Railways employs about 1.4 million people making it the eighth largest employer in the world and the largest employer in India.
What Ails Indian Railways?
Despite its stature, Indian Railways has continued to be riddled with administrative issues, lack of hygiene and hospitality, revenue losses, and similar concerns. The railways portfolio is an important one in the Indian cabinet and each minister handling this giant organisation has attempted to tackle its problems in his or her own way. Balancing the books while providing optimum services has always been the tightrope these ministers have attempted to walk. The sheer population of the country and the number of people using the railways has made it difficult for quality to be a priority. Much has been done over the decade to upgrade the quality of services provided by the railways and yet the organization has always been at the receiving end of criticism.
In 2014, ever since the NDA took over at the centre one of the main objectives of the Ministry of Railways has to bring back the profitability of the organization. Prior to the NDA government’s maiden Railway budget, news reports suggested that Indian Railways was suffering from losses amounting to nearly INR 900 crore per month. A high operating ratio and stalled projects were draining away the organization’s resources.
Apart from the financial woes, services, security, and cleanliness were some of the biggest challenges faced by the railways. Technological advances, apart from a major online booking system change in the past decade, were next to non-existent. Overpaid and lackadaisical vendors ignored frequent complaints and answerability was minimal.
In an effort to develop both, the quality of services and the profitability of the Indian Railways, the training needs of railway officials have come into focus. The learning and development needs of the railways personnel is now starting to find priority.
National Academy of Indian Railways
The National Academy of Indian Railways or Bharatiya Rail Rashtriya Akademy has hitherto served as the management training institute for officers and senior personnel serving with the Indian Railways. The institute was set up in 1930 as the Railway Staff College and is located at Pratap Vilas Palace, a sprawling mansion in Vadodara. Despite the presence of such an old and well-established institution, a number of shortcomings have been regularly noted. The National Academy of Indian Railways (NAIR) caters merely to the officers and senior cadre of the railways staff. The need for a wholesome academy with specialized approaches to the various departments and functions is a pressing need. For a couple of years now, the Indian PM Narendra Modi has been promising India its first Railway University – a center of higher education focusing solely on the training and learning needs of the Indian Railways and its staff. Instead of setting up a separate institution at a different location, the government now plans to upgrade the NAIR into a university.
India’s First Rail University
The promise to upgrade the NAIR into a full-fledged university was made way back in 2014 during the 64th foundation day celebrations of the institute. In the 2015-16 railway budget, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu announced the initiation of the process of setting up this university but for a while it seemed that budgetary constraints may keep this dream from attaining fulfilment. It is likely that the establishment of India’s Railway University is likely to cost the state coffers about INR 100 crore.
Courses and Curriculum
According to recent news reports, PM Modi is taking a keen and personal interest in the development of the railways university. His vision is for the academy to grow into a global center for excellence in rail engineering and management – a centre that can attract students from across the world. In an effort to develop a world-class curriculum, he has enlisted the help of China’s rail services officials. The University is likely to offer a variety of courses with special focus on M Tech and MBA. Students at the university are likely to be able to undertake research on various aspects of railways management including civil engineering, transportation and logistics management, signal and telecommunications engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering, customer services, IT management, vendor management, and crisis management. The ultimate aim is to make Indian railways a more professional, modern, and efficient organization.
According to recent news reports, the six existing centralized training institutes (CTIs) will be incorporated as part of the university. With time, as the institution develops, a second campus in Gujarat may also be on the cards. EdCIL, a PSU specializing in education and consultancy has been engaged to provide key assistance in setting up this railway university.
Needless to say, not everybody believes in the Modi dream. One of the main objections raised is that the establishment of an organization of this stature will divert a great deal of resources away from the core operations of the railways. Indian Railways is at a critical juncture at the moment. From setting up bullet trains to improving tracks and crossings and to redesigning coaches and amenities on offer, much has been happening. Implementing all these changes on a large scale will require effort and a great deal of finances as well. The NaMo administration, however, seems to think that the establishment of the university is likely to make all these changes sustainable in the long term. The government believes that training and learning and personal development is the key to railways’ transformation into a modern and efficient organization.
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