Former Chairman Railway Board, Ashwani Lohani Joins GMR Group

Former chairman of the Railway Board and two-time chief of Air India, Ashwani Lohani, has joined GMR Group’s Services Business (which includes railways) as chief executive officer (CEO). The move may well be a boost for the company, as it was in the process of expanding its wings in the Railways sector by showing its interests in the private train project, station redevelopment plans and dedicated freight corridors (DFC).

The move comes some 19 months after he retired from the post of chairman of the Railway Board. Lohani’s move is a prize catch for the company’s railway division considering that it entered the business only in 2013-14, by winning two Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) projects in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Later in 2014-15, it was awarded four key projects on the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation (DFCC) in UP worth Rs 7,361 crore.

Lohani is a 1980-batch IRSME (Indian Railway Service Mechanical Engineering) officer hailing from Madhya Pradesh. It was in August 2015 that Lohani took charge of Air India for the first time and was termed the turnaround man of the national carrier. During his tenure, Air India clocked an operating profit of Rs 105 crore during financial year 2016-17, its first year with profits since the merger of Indian Airlines and Air India in 2007. This was largely due to the softer crude oil prices.

After that, he headed the Indian railways from August 2017 to December 2018. He was instrumental in increasing the pace of infrastructure works, which resulted in bringing down the number of accidents to zero now. In February 2019, he again took charge of Air India for a one-year term. After leaving his office, he was appointed as the chairman of Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC).

GMR was one of the 16 companies that participated in the pre-bid conference for running private trains in the country. The plan by the Railways is to have 151 trains across the country, with an investment of around Rs 30,000 crore. In the 2018-19 annual report by GMR, it highlighted that it is betting big on the planned third dedicated East Coast Freight Corridor between Kharagpur and Vijaywada costing more than Rs 50,000 Crore funded by the World Bank.

“Railway also plans to bid out large tenders for electrification under the EPC model by 2021, the potential opportunity size is Rs 36,000 Crore. Mega-project of station redevelopment is another area which could offer massive opportunities going forward,” the company’s annual report said. The entire station redevelopment project for 400 stations across the country is expected to see investments to the tune of around Rs 1 trillion.

Early this month, GMR was shortlisted along with eight other industry majors for the redevelopment of four railway stations – Nagpur, Gwalior, Amritsar and Sabarmati – on a public-private partnership (PPP) model.