In Ashwini Vaishnaw, Odisha got its first-ever railway minister since 1947, when the seat considered as the 'lifeline of the nation' has been piloted by neighbouring states like Bihar (5 -from Jagjivan Ram to George Fernandes, Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan) and West Bengal (3- Mamata to Dinesh and Mukul Roy).
In the long 74-years post Independence history, Odisha could get a foothold in the guise of Kanhu Charan Lenka during the late PV Narishma Rao Prime Ministership in the years 1991-95. Incidentally, KC Lenka had been the RS member then, like Ashwini Vaishnav.
From day one (2014), PM Modi's first love for Railways Minister had been Suresh Prabhu. After being sworn in as PM in 2014, when the then alliance partner Shiv Sena refused to let Prabhu join the Modi cabinet as rail Minister from Sena bench, Sadanand Gowda was allocated the portfolio. But in November, the baton of the 'lifeline' was handed over to Prabhu after he resigned from Sena and joined BJP. Prabhu was preferred for having a good knack for the dynamics of private investment.
In 2015, Prabhu announced the Indian Railways Vision Plan 2030, which laid stress on the safety and services of global standards. And in his first rail budget laid an investment roadmap worth $142 billion to ramp up the rail infra and services of the country.
But after two major train accidents in quick succession, Prabhu owning moral responsibility resigned from the ministry in 2017. Since then the 'lifeline' torch had been with Piyush Goyal nicknamed as "Happy" in the old Jansangh circle.
It is during his tenure, the Indian Railways has formally released its ambitious National Rail Plan-2024. Struck by the pandemic in 2020, the ambitious plan is yet to steam ahead. And with only 3-years left for the 2024 dateline (incidentally when BJP has to seek re-election), PM Modi again entrusted the 'lifeline' to Vaishnav- who is more a technocrat and less a politician.
Why Ashwini PM Modi's Blue-Eyed Boy?
As per the National Rail Plan, the country needs a whopping 17.8 thousand locomotives by 2026. The plan forecasts a requirement of a massive 47.02 thousand by 2051. Besides, the requirement of wagons by 2026 is projected at 4.07 lakh and 10.6 lakh by 2051 in order to make the railways the 'engine' of the country's growth. The National rail Plan -2024 has the following cardinal points.
- Reduce the cost of rail transport by 30 per cent across the spectrum
- Infrastructure and business planning on the same platform
- Constant updating of the Institutional set-up
- From commodity to customer migration
In order to put the National Rail Plan on the 2024 track and attain speed, the former bureaucrat from Odisha fits the bill. The plan to induct him as railway minister is hanging since 2019, thanks to the pandemic that gripped the country hard since 2020 January.
For his stint in GE transportation and Siemens Locomotive, besides his hands-on technical expertise on urban infrastructure, PM Modi has allocated the country's 'lifeline' to Vaishnav. Both the companies have a stake in modernising the rolling stock of Indian Railways.
- Fine-tuning and re-calibrating the policies to bring huge private investment.
- Former Rly Minister has already set the investment bar at $142 billion
- Giving practical shape to the High-Speed rail plan of PM Modi.
- Infuse speed to the major infra projects like East-west dedicated freight corridor by 2031
- Put on track the East coast dedicated freight corridor and make it operational by 2031.
- The East Coast corridor runs through Odisha.
- Speed up setting up state of art terminal locations in the country, including Odisha.
- Give an impetus to upgrade the capacity of the highly utilised network, including HUN -7 that runs through Odisha.