In his hectic 9 am to 9 pm schedule, railway minister Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu would be getting hardly any time to pursue his two PhDs — one on climate change from the Freie Universitat Berlin and another in economics from Mumbai University. Ever since he was made a minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet in November, the multi-faceted Prabhu has had a single-minded focus – the Indian Railways.But, those working closely with him say it is the technocrat in him that surfaces more than the politician. Prabhu undermines neither of his two facets. “Working with people comes naturally to me,” is all he says when asked if there is ever a conflict between the politician and technocrat.His bio data describes his profession as chartered accountant, farmer, social worker and educationist, but often described as a one-man think tank, Prabhu has dealt in 150 issues. It was his thirst for kowledge that led him to get registered for a PhD on energy and environment, issues related to climate change, from a German University, and on State Public Finance from Mumbai University, before he joined the Modi government.Between the lines of the Mumbai-born 61-year-old wizard’s long curriculum vitae is the unsaid — his untainted image.An official in his ministry points out that one of the first steps he took after taking over was to make sure that tenders will not be dealt with at the level of the railway minister, sending a clear message that he wanted to ensure transparency. Earlier, tenders up to Rs 150 crore were being handled by the zonal railways and anything above came to the minister, but now the powers will be delegates to the operating levels. Within four days of taking over, Prabhu appointed a committee under chairmanship of fomer Delhi metro chief E Sreedharan to suggest a proper system and procedures to ensure accountability and transparency at the level of general managers and other functionaries for taking all commercial decisions including that of tendering.Sources say Prabhu insisted on identifying “bench marks” as against talking in abstracts. With customer satisfaction in mind, the minister is of the view that the ministry needs to study world standards to develop the bench marks. But, all this requires resources for which various options are being examined. Prabhu is planning to come out with a five-year policy, sources said.”Customer safety is a priority,” says Prabhu, who has always propagates “innovative thinking”An official recalls how he gave a new perspective to a ministry’s proposal to select ten railway stations into world class stations. The minister asked “why choose ten?”, the official said. Prabhu suggestedthat the ministry should say it wanted to develop all 8,000 stations in the country and leave it to the developer to select of them.The ministry is also studying the economic feasibility of bullet trains, one of prime minister Narendra Modi’s pet projects. While it has already identified the Ahmedabad-Mumbai route to begin with, it isexploring other routes including Mumbai-Chennai. The task before Prabhu is gigantic and public expectations are high.Ever since the chartered accountant joined politics in 1996, life has taken several twists and turns from being a four-time Lok Sabha member from Maharashtra’s Rajapur constituency representing the Shiv Sena to a Rajya Sabha member from Haryana representing the BJP and from four portfolios in the Vajpayee government to being railway minister again in a NDA government.
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