New Delhi: The government Friday expressed hope it would now be able to attend to the ailing railway ministry, freed of the Trinamool Congress' hold with the regional party quitting the Congress-led UPA.
"Railways is a key infrastructure ministry vital for economic development of the country. There is a need to restore its fiscal health and technological strength. Safety of passengers is a prime and compelling need," Minister of State for Planning Ashwani Kumar told IANS.
"The railways spends all its earnings on just running the network. I hope suitable measures will be taken to address these issues," he said.
Government sources said it was for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi to decide whether the key infrastructure ministry goes to the Congress or is given to an ally.
Eyebrows have been raised about the Trinamool's handling of the ministry - overseeing a network that carries 22 million passengers on 11,000 trains per day - under Mamata Banerjee and Mukul Roy, barring the short term of Dinesh Trivedi in UPA-II.
Roy's long absences from office, much like Banerjee's, had become a cause for concern. Insiders said key decisions were delayed which impacted the safety and security of the world's second largest train network.
Since Roy took office March 20, he followed Banerjee in spending most of his time attending to party work in Kolkata. That's because he holds the No.2 slot in the Trinamool.
According to railway ministry sources important files were being regularly sent to Kolkata for Roy's information and approval - like during Banerjee's tenure.
As a result, he missed many cabinet meetings.
Roy, in fact, had come into office in extremely controversial circumstances. Banerjee had vacated the portfolio after the Trinamool ended more than three decades of Left rule in West Bengal and became the state's chief minister in summer of 2011.
She nominated Trivedi as railway minister last year but recommended his dismissal in March 2012 when he proposed hikes in certain classes of passenger fares in the railway budget for 2012-13.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appreciated Trivedi's budget but had to give in to Banerjee's diktats and removed him. Roy was given the ministry despite the fact that as a junior railway minister he had refused to visit the site of a major train accident in Assam in July 2011.
"The minister's absence indicated a lack of a sense of responsibility," said sources.
"A minister's presence ensures that senior officials are on the alert. Being a cabinet minister is a full time job, but Roy's attitude was akin to that of a feudal lord," a senior railway official told IANS.
In the past three years, there was no forward movement on improving railway safety and modernisation, said the official.
However, Trivedi during his brief stint had tried to address the issues by setting up two expert panels headed by former Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar and adviser to prime minister on innovation Sam Pitroda.
The reports have been gathering dust since February.