Quality of Railways’ services: An issue

G. Srinivasan

Ever since the NDA government returned to power after a decade of wilderness in 2014, the new dispensation under the inscrutable but all the more intrepid leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is blazing a new trial on the economic landscape with gusto. Whether it was the dismantling of the erstwhile Planning Commission, a relic of the socialist past , the demonetization of high denominational currencies or the merger of the rail budget with the general budget, the Schumpeterian paradigm of creative destruction has been the hallmark of this government, regardless of the wider ramifications this wrought on the body politic in its wake.
For the Indian Railways, the appointment of a former Shiv Sena leader Suresh Prabhu who was expelled from his party but who was greeted with open arms by the BJP with a ministerial berth as the Railways Minister, the auditor-turned politico was a better choice, given the past record when coalition partner satraps from the State ruled and ruined the arterial mode of transport. True to his salt, Prabhu did not refrain from undertaking a thorough overhaul of the existing business as usual approach and co-opted external agencies and institutions for funding its vast infrastructure development projects and programmes of a humongous order of eight lakh crore of rupees spread over a five-year span. How far his efforts in this direction would pan out to retrieve the lost ground the railways suffered from the users’ growing preference to roadways would be known only after the new projects are through from the drawing board before long.
Interestingly while adequate weighment arrangements were not made/ensured by the railways for weighment of leased parcel traffic, rules were framed for termination of contracts after fourth default of overloading! These were, however, not a deterrent as weighment was not being done as a regular measure to check overloading despite laid down norms.
Stating that response for booking of leased parcel traffic through brake vans as well as parcel vans was inadequate, the report said that while offers received were far less than space offered on lease, railways did not allot parcel vans in 65 per cent of the cases. As such, leasing space remained grossly unutilized, it said adding that leased traffic services suffered from lack of customer friendliness and from maladies like delays in internal processes and deficiencies in decision-making. For leasing of parcel space, a delay of upto 240 days in finalization of tenders by zonal railways was noticed.  Customers had to cancel indents for parcel vans due to non-supply by railway administration and in many cases parcel vans were declared “sick after being loaded”. A transport system aspired to be the swiftest and eco-friendly can ill-afford to lose its image on flimsy alibi like vans being sick as no business worth its name would accept such frivolous excuses when competing modes of transport carry without much hassles and least complaint quotients.
What is more shocking is that for non-leased traffic, zonal railways carried parcels beyond their intended destinations in a significant number of cases. In the two months test checked, railways carried 13565 over-carried parcels back to their original destinations. Over carriage of parcels also took away space in Assistant Guard’s Cabin (AGC)/Brake Vans which could be utilized for transportation of parcel traffic. This resulted in hardships to the customers and fostered operational problems to the railway administration, the CAG report deplored adding that this also reflected on the quality of services being provided to the customers! There can be no direct hit on the railways for being slovenly in their remit to service customers with care and due regard to their legitimate concerns.
The CAG report also dealt with the management of linen in IR as the coaching stock consist of 390 AC first class coaches (7500 berths), 2375 AC(2-tier) coaches (112350 berths) and 5302 AC 3-tier sleeper coaches (345091 berths). Noting that a robust system for procurement, washing and distribution of linen is indispensable to provide clean, hygienic, well-ironed and good quality linen to all passenger travelling in upper classes, audit found that as on end- March 2016 in respect of some of the linen items in selected General Stores Depots (GSDs), the stock in hand was less than one month’s requirement. It further noted provision of inspection of a prescribed percentage of new supply was not being used effectively to ensure quality of the linen received. The storage space of GSD was not adequate and items were not stored in proper milieu, it said adding that the storage space I the coaching depots too was also not adequate and proper storing arrangements were not made at many places.
To compound the woes of the traveling public paying through their noses, blankets and pillows were not dry cleaned and or sanitized for long periods before supply to the passengers, the CAG candidly said. What galls the gullible travelers in premier trains is that at the end of the journey, the cleaning staff comes for baksheesh (tips) round as if the materials supplied were all spotless, free from gems and whatnot?  The audit findings discussed here pertain only to two facets of the vast array of services the IR provides to its customers.  But if the tip of the troubling icebergs is a pointer as to what great tasks lay ahead for the railway authorities to clean up the system that itself would be a sobering thought that acche din perhaps may dawn in the foreseeable future, if not in the medium-term. (IPA)

Monday, 31 July, 2017