As Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu gets ready to give final shape to the Railway Budget, which will be presented in Parliament on 26 February, passengers want him to ensure the availability of berths and their safety and security while travelling. They also want the four-month window given for booking tickets to be drastically reduced to half.
The Sunday Guardian spoke to a cross-section of frequent travellers and found that getting a confirmed ticket was the biggest concern for them, besides ensuring a safe journey. “Getting a confirmed ticket is the biggest issue. Most of the time we get waitlisted tickets and we are not sure whether these will be confirmed or not, until the last moment,” said Ashok Kumar Sinha, a lawyer based in Delhi.
“Until the making of the chart three-four hours before the scheduled departure, we remain in suspense about our ticket getting confirmed. The minister should try to increase the number of berths in a compartment by increasing the number of bogies so that the problem of waitlisted ticket is sorted out. Also, the chart should be prepared a day earlier so that if the ticket does not get confirmed, we can make alternate arrangements,” he said.
According to a senior citizen, Ghaziabad-based Pooran Singh, who is a retired PSU employee, the minister should ensure the presence of at least one police person in each coach, during travel, to ensure safety and security. “We often see police personnel making a round of the train once in a while, but they are not there when we need them during the course of the journey. They should be stationed in every compartment. The name of the constable on duty and his phone number should also be displayed on the reservation chart,” he said.
Some passengers complained about the poor quality of food supplied by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). “The quality of the food on trains was very good earlier when the job was with the IRCTC. The minister should take steps to improve the catering service in trains. Also, the prices are quite high. Recently I had to pay Rs 100 for one plate of vegetarian thali, which I think is too much,” said Noida’s Manisha Verma, a homemaker.
Another passenger expressed concern over A.H. Wheeler bookshops disappearing from railway platforms. “These bookshops would make our journey exciting. But nowadays, I do not find such Wheeler shops. The minister should revive those bookshops on all platforms,” said Om Prakash Aggarwal, a retired Army man.
One of the most unpopular steps taken by the Railways is the four-month window provided for buying tickets for long distance trains. Almost everyone this newspaper spoke to, wanted this period to be halved. There was a unanimous opinion that the four-month window was encouraging touts and was not helping the genuine passengers. “How about booking tickets five years ahead? This is ridiculous. The ministry should go back to the earlier two-month reservation system. No one on earth can plan things four months ahead of schedule. This may add to the Railways’ revenue through cancellation and Tatkal charges, but it inconveniences people a great deal. Passengers who have to travel urgently face a lot of hardship as the Tatkal system has become a farce,” said Anshuman, a Delhi-based event manager.
K. Hasan, former secretary general of the Federation of Railway Officers, said: “Indian Railways is bearing a loss of more than Rs 30,000 crore a year. It is important for the ministry to raise the tariff to balance their books. The passenger fares are not rational and are being subsidised from freight earnings. Indian Railways has to bear the social cost in the form of high subsidies, un-remunerable railway lines and subsidy on essential commodities. Many of these projects are pending for the last 10-15 years. The result is that in many projects the capital is blocked causing the piling of interest amount with no return. The government must give a serious thought whether the Indian Railways may continue to operate as a department of the government or as a commercial entity.”