Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Do passengers have a worse deal than pigs and goats in new Indian Railways?

The Indian Railways has invited stakeholders for discussions on privatisation of passenger trains, and this included every possible group. Except the largest stakeholders – passengers themselves. It seems the views and needs of passengers do not fit in anymore with the Indian Railways.

Out of these discussions emerged a “Request for Qualification” document from the Indian Railways. Type “Railway Board” in the drop-down and follow the instructions to read the RFQs. For different clusters. And one of the most interesting points, hidden away in the fine print, read thus -“Configuration of trains: The configuration of each train as well as its coaches shall be determined by the Concessionaire based on the demand.”

Amazing, isn’t it? It looks like we are now once again back in Colonial days. There were 8.44 billion passengers on Indian Railways in the FY 2019-2020. 23 million passengers on Indian Railways per day. 108 million passengers travelled by air-conditioned class in a year. That’s about 1.27% of all Indian Railway passenger traffic was in air-conditioned classes.

The demand for train travel in India is visible at each and every railway station in India. Mostly non air-conditioned class. Especially at each end of the platform, where the general un-reserved bogies or coaches are located in our faster trains, if at all. There is no clause about how this demand, which is about 98.73% of passenger traffic with Indian Railways, will be met.

Should 98.73% of capacity all privatised trains be non air-conditioned? Should even 25% of capacity of all privatised trains be non air-conditioned? Should the improvements with quality of railway services to passengers concentrate more on non air-conditioned classes, private sector or public sector?

I can not find a single study or expression of passengers views on this subject anywhere – and I have asked more than a few friends who are or were in the Indian Railways about this. The 98.73% of passengers on Indian Railways is, invisible. Except maybe when they finally lose patience and hold up trains. Even livestock gets a better deal in non air-conditioned classes of travel over Indian Railways than human beings, if you look at data, rules & regulations.

Indian Railways passengers are stakeholders, or not, of Indian Railways?  If I was a sheep or a goat or a pig or a buffalo or a horse, I would get a better deal on Indian Railways, privatised or not.

Veeresh Malik was a seafarer. And a lot more besides. A decade in facial biometrics, which took him into the world of finance, gaming, preventive defence and money laundering before the subliminal mind management technology blew his brains out. His romance with the media endures since 1994, duly responded by Outlook, among others.

A survivor of two brain-strokes, triggered by a ship explosion in the 70s, Veeresh moved beyond fear decades ago.

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