Re-evaluating The Development Of Railways In The Modi Era

As India welcomes a new government this year, let us take a moment to assess the railways in the Modi Era. Indian Railway is an important economic asset which has undergone tremendous shifts over the last 167 years on the technology front with promises of modern railways endowed with safety, punctuality and a global standard of infrastructure. This is meant to compete with the competitive global railway economy, which has moved well ahead than what the Indian Railways could ever imagine.

There is no speculation over the fact that railways have been an important asset for all governments from the populistic perspective. The last five years were however different from what railways in the past decades ever witnessed.

Railways In The Pre And Post NDA Regime

Prior to the current NDA regime, there were unsuccessful attempts in the previous UPA regime under the able leadership of Dinesh Trivedi to improve the railway system; this was short-lived, given the conflict of interests owing to the coalition nature of the government.

The year 2014 marked by the succession of the NDA government with a landslide victory; this was a new chapter in the development of railways, with the government actively engaged in improving the speed of trains across the network. Also, state of art practices were implemented, on a war-footing basis, with the completion of the Dedicated Freight Corridor. This was amidst growing concerns of declining passengers owing to the infamous dynamic pricing strategy adopted.

This happened with the aim of improving revenue generation and surplus creation. Unfortunately, it failed miserably, with railways losing a significant proportion of their premium customers and drawing flak from CAG over the hurried and irrational implementation. This further forced the railways to withdraw the controversial pricing strategy from 144 trains.

The Long Walk To A Competent Network In A Global Railway Economy

There was still a positive side to the railway administration which was marked by improvement in regional connectivity and expansion of railways to the strategic Northeast, which for a long period of time remained isolated from the mainstream railway network. A greater cause can be attributed to rising threats from China’s aggressive railway expansion reaching almost to the foot of the Northeast region, and effectively countered by the construction of Bogibeel Bridge connecting Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, while also reducing the journey duration.

The government also witnessed strengthening of diplomatic relations with Bangladesh and Nepal through the promise of establishing new connections and strengthening its existing Railway diplomacy through the inauguration of Bandhan Express. This poses a long-term benefit from the perspective of South-South cooperation with developing countries helping each other in strengthening their railways and related infrastructure.

Railways saw a new dimension, defined by efficiency, sustainability, punctuality, safety and knowledge dissemination, with India becoming the third country in the world to have a dedicated railway university. This showed a paradigm shift in the government’s outlook towards railways as an instrument beyond populist aspirations, attracting the attention of global railway powers, infusing monetary and technology investments through 100% Foreign Direct Investment. This further added a new dimension to the idea of railway diplomacy, which was earlier defined by geopolitical interests with a greater understanding of competency in the global railway environment breaking free from the chains of ignorance, complacency and rigidity.

Challenges Ahead

However, there is a downside to the dynamism exhibited by the government when dealing with the phenomenal growth of railways. There is a scope for greater reforms in restructuring the approach that the government has adopted towards frontier lines and current lines of economic importance such as chord and trunk lines.

Unfortunately, the Golden Quadrilateral has faded into a monologue approach to improve efficiency in train operations, which the government through the core elements of punctuality, safety and knowledge dissemination has attempted to consolidate and simultaneously concentrate. But, it remains far from being achieved to the point of satisfaction at a time when the world is looking up to India as the next hub of global standard railway operations and playing an active role in helping India come on a level playing field.

It is to be inferred that these 5 years were the time for learning, the rectification of mistakes and the strengthening of existing railway networks physically and monetarily. This, however, marks the beginning of a journey that the railways have embarked upon alongside global railway networks. I have a strong vision and hope that the new term will be equally fruitful and define railways in a broader perspective at the domestic and international community by its development in technical progress.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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