Puneet Chawla assumed charge as chairman and managing director (CMD) of RailTel in December 2018. RailTel is a Mini Ratna PSU working towards turning India into a modern, connected nation – its optic fibre network, spanning 50,000 km, covers around 70 per cent of the population. As CMD, Chawla plans to upgrade the network and adds that with its Infrastructure Provider-1 licence he plans to get into building towers for mobile networks because very soon, long term evolution proliferation will be taking place.
A much talked about RailTel project is its railway station Wi-Fi project. With a vision of turning railway stations into a platform for digital inclusion, RailTel has started providing free Wi-Fi at Indian Railway stations across the country. Till date, Wi-Fi has been provided at 1,600 stations.
After graduating from the Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh, in 1984, Chawla joined Semiconductor Complex Limited, where he worked on 3/5-micron technology. During his stint with the firm, he took the Engineering Services Examination in 1985 and became an officer of the Indian Railway Service of Signal Engineers. His first posting was in Dhanbad as an assistant divisional signal and telecom engineer. He then worked on a railway electrification project in Ambala. Later, he worked with Northern Railway in Delhi as deputy chief engineer for about seven years, during which time he was involved in resignalling large parts of the Delhi area to accommodate more trains and make the yards more flexible.
During his career, Chawla has worked on many prestigious assignments. He particularly recalls his time at Ajmer, Rajasthan, as the Divisional Railway Manager, when the basic configuration of Ajmer and adjoining stations was altered. He not only decongested the Ajmer station but also focused on cleaning it up, making it one of the country’s cleanest stations. When he was appointed to the Railway Board in New Delhi as executive director of safety, he bore the immense responsibility with perfection. However, he attributes the success to his team. He believes the key to making a team effective is to decentralise authority.
After a busy day in the office, Chawla has tea with his wife, a professor in Delhi University, followed by a long walk. Since his mother lives with them, he makes a point of spending time with her too. His son works for Amazon in the US and his daughter studies management in Dubai. For relaxation during weekends, he likes watching Amitabh Bachchan movies, listening to old songs and reading.