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Ashwini Vaishnaw Takes Charge As Railway Minister; Know More About This Ex Odisha-Cadre IAS Officer

Bhubaneswar: Ashwini Vaishnaw took charge as the new Railways Minister on Thursday.

He is the first from Odisha to become Cabinet Minister for Railways. Bhakta Das and Kanhu Charan Lenka had earlier served as MoS of Railways.

The entry of the 50-year-old Rajya Sabha member from Odisha into the railway ministry came at a time when the national carrier is mulling ways of generating much-needed revenue through different streams, including the non-fare segment. A need for private investment has been felt to upgrade its facilities and infrastructure amid competition from airlines, which is now being preferred by its AC class passengers, and with people preferring to travel by road to cover small distances.

What could have also tilted the scales in the favour of the bureaucrat-turned-entrepreneur-turned-politician is his vast experience in both the public and the private sectors. He is particularly known for his involvement in the Public-Private Policy framework in infrastructure projects. Besides, he is said to have a good rapport with Modi since the days when the latter was Gujarat CM and the former was a close aide of A B Vajpayee (first as Deputy Secretary in the PMO and subsequently as Private Secretary).

The 1994-batch Odisha-cadre IAS officer had served as the Collector of Balasore and Cuttack districts. He was also involved in the relief and rehabilitation efforts during the 1999 Super Cyclone.

“Ashwini Vaishnaw, put his engineering degree to good use. Vaishnaw had been constantly downloading the latest news on the cyclone from a US Navy site website. Once downloaded, the pictures were faxed to Bhubaneswar for the Chief Secretary’s perusal. As Vaishnaw’s faxes came in, the meetings got longer. Top police officials and the Chief Secretary wondered about the time that would be required to clear roadblocks after the cyclone. The Ganjam cyclone (which took place prior to the October 29 Super Cyclone) had demonstrated that power lines could be effectively rendered extinct during a cyclone,” wrote Ruben Banerjee in his book, Orissa Tragedy: A Cyclone’s Year of Calamity.

Vaishnaw quit government service in 2008 after an MBA from Wharton University in the United States. He served in GE and Siemens in senior managerial positions for the next few years before setting up two auto component manufacturing units in Gujarat.

A gold medalist in Bachelor of Engineering (BE) from the Jai Narayan Vyas University in Jodhpur and M Tech from IIT Kanpur, he joined the board of Triveni Pellets Private Limited as a Director in 2017. He, along with Sajjan Jindal of JSW Group and B Prabhakaran of Triveni, took over Brahmani River Pellets Limited (BRPL) and turned it around in a short period.

Interestingly, BJD president Naveen Patnaik had first announced Vaishnaw’s candidature for Rajya Sabha in 2019 but later backed him as a BJP candidate. He joined the saffron party on June 22, 2019, a day his nomination was announced.

Vaishnaw had then taken the oath in Odia in the Upper House.