The move follows the release last month of a new procurement manual by the Indian Finance Ministry, which all central government ministries and departments have been mandated to adopt.

“We are in the process of framing the procurement guidelines,” explains IR environmental advisor Mr A K Tiwari. “This will be done either by implementing a new policy, or by bringing changes in the existing rules of business.”

IR currently has no comprehensive data on its annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Ahead of the signing of the 2015 agreement of the United Nations Framework for Climate Change at Paris, IR data on GHGs had been submitted to the International Union of Railways (UIC), but the Indian government had remained silent on other environmental impacts of its rail operations such as water consumption, resource consumption and biodiversity losses.

“The decision to adopt a new procurement policy is a step in the right direction, as IR will now be required to conduct scientific studies on the environmental impacts of its operations,” says IR official Mr Sanjay Kumar, who was awarded the 2017 individual leadership award by the US-based Sustainable Procurement Leadership Council.

IR’s annual procurement budget is estimated at Rs 300bn ($US 4.4bn), while the railway spends an similar amount on its works programme.

So far, IR has adhered to the lowest-bidder principle, but rolling stock and other equipment procured under these standards have often come with steep lifecycle costs.

Officials suggest a slow rollout of the new policy to enable suppliers to adapt, while ensuring that IR staff are adequately trained in the new practice.

IR uses thousands of litres of lead paint each year, while the quality of office equipment and ICT have also been found to be suspect. “A beginning can be made by ensuring that such products meet Bureau of Energy Efficiency standards,” IR says.