The Disingenuous Railway

Kerala Sampark Kranti was supposed to reach Madgaon station at 9.30pm on the second day of the journey. We were not exactly waiting for the destination. The gravid green scenery hill piercing the clouds and suddenly falling into valleys that gave u a sense of levitation, the extremely plain fields filled with water being sprinkled with rain, the rivers and waterways with canoe and a calm demeanor, looked at through the clean glass window of a higher-class compartment could go on forever. The waiter, although announced, Madgaon station was expected at about 2.30am in the night, apparently because during rainy season, trains ran slow in Konkan railway and there were stops at about 8 hours apart. We ordered dinner. After dinner, with just the darkness outside the window, and a noisy kid inside, I grew restless as I always did in train journeys. The same waiter in an usual nonchalant face said, “Madgaon will come at 11pm”. Most of us, first-time visitors, hurried to get our luggage together.

Cyani, my younger brother doesn’t bother. Did he just sell us a dinner we might not have needed, he asks.

We had been discussing how the railway is milking travelers. Take “tatkal scheme” for example.

Sometime back tatkal could be booked 2 days (i.e 48 hours) in advance of the departure time of the train from the source station. There was a reason for that. Those who book tatkal ticket are either the one who decided to travel just 2-3 days before their travel day or the one who booked earlier but got a higher-numbered-waiting-list that might not convert to a confirmed berth. When the second category people booked tatkal ticket, they simply cancelled their regular (called general ticket) before 24 hours of travel and got the entire fare refunded minus the cancellation fee. Now, since tatkal policy is changed (to booking 24 hours in advance) without changing the cancellation and refund policy, the second category traveler will forfeit 25% of the fare of the regular ticket. Since tatkal ticket can’t be cancelled, that 25% is assured profit to the railways.

Can you guess when this change took place? Mamata Banarjee did a lot of hoo-halla, sacked Dinesh Trivedi for his anti-people fare hike and installed Mukul Roy as railway minister who went on to do roll-back the fare-hike (in March/2012) and did this change in tatkal booking time in June/2012. Nobody protested.

We don’t know if we should protest, half the times and the rest of the times, we are not sure if protests work. Take for example, the railway “Toilets”.

Railway toilets are actually open defecation systems, and with higher-class compartments only the number of times they clean is higher. Even after Bezwada Wilson indicted Railway and the Govt. in prime time national television with Amir Khan, nothing came forward. No provision in the budget, no program for its elimination and quite predictably no protest from the people. Mostly because the people who can protest and be heard don’t care. We believe it doesn’t affect us. How many of the traveler actually hold off nature’s call at the platforms, even though it is suggested to do? Don’t you always see the railway tracks in platform soiled and smell a pungent, very characteristically railway odour there. It can affect everybody’s health, the manual scavenger’s heavily, not even the travelers are not immune to it, especially very young ones. Read here. ” Faeces contain germs that, when released into the environment, make their way onto children’s fingers and feet, into their food and water, and wherever flies take them. Exposure to these germs not only gives children diarrhoea, but over the long term, also can cause changes in the tissues of their intestines that prevent the absorption and use of nutrients in food, even when the child does not seem sick. ”

So may be, next time you travel, put a letter in the suggestion box, you may not find one easily. My coach said the complaint/suggestion box was with the guard. That may not be enough anyway, but it cant be left just like that.

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