On the right tracks

By GovernanceToday
In Governance Watch
June 24, 2016
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Initiatives of the new government have started to show positive results for Indian Railways

Littered cups, peanut shells, food crumbs on the births and stinky toilets – a sight very common during rail travel is  gradually becoming uncommon. Our Railways is going clean and this is no comment of any authority concerned but, of we the common people. Recent policies, IT ventures, efforts of authorities concerned have begun to show positive changes on ground.

new-trains-and-new-routes

Output is the parameter to judge any effort and here at the railways, output is talking. Indeed there is a long way to go before it becomes picture perfect but people are seeing the change and this, certainly counts.

Several initiatives aimed at providing better services have been introduced and the passengers are acknowledging it. “Following my complaint a whole team of 10 cleaners showed up. They registered my complaint, cleaned the compartment very nicely and also requested feedback. This is very good. I am glad that we can request such services now,” said Priyam Singh, a passenger.

Like Priyam there are several other passengers who talk about clean tracks, fragrant toilets, and better and clean bed rolls. “I was surprised how a whole team of green-clad men got into the train at Khadakpur railway station and cleaned the toilets. The whole compartment smelt good after that. Moreover when the train started to leave the platform they formed a queue and waived and wished. That felt so good,” shares Pankaj Sinha, a frequent traveler on trains.

New trains and new routes were always introduced but services on personal request are being appreciated by one and all. The system of SMS is turning out to be revolutionary. Shashwat Mallick who was on a long journey to Madhya Pradesh shares how SMS helped him.

“My wife and I boarded the train at around 11 pm. After we had settled, we saw many cockroaches coming out of different corners of the births. Terrified, I called the attendant who denied calling the cleaning staff at that time in the night. Even the TT denied saying that he had more important work to do than register my complaint. I was ignorant and therefore had to spend the night like that only. Next morning a tea vendor told me about the complain number written outside washrooms. I messaged on that number and within five minutes a team of cleaning staff came. They asked for the code and did their job very well. I also received a feedback call.”

This was wonderful. Indian railways and this service in this normal train, surprising! Generally these are expected in Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains, added Shashwat.

Several activists who are working for the cause of unemployment in the country say that such initiatives are not only improving services but also creating job opportunities. They explain that the railway in their efforts to improve services is helping fight unemployment. A big number of these cleaning staff comprises the unskilled and uneducated lot. Beefed up services is giving many unskilled laborers livelihood and better life for their families.

sub-optimal-mix-transport“My children are going to school now and I am thankful to railways for giving me this job. Now my children can study and we do not sleep empty stomach,” said Mantu, who was previously working as a laborer at construction sites where every day job was not certain. Now he has a job every day, a uniform to wear and subsidized food at Jan Aahar.

One single initiative has changed a lot of lives, not only of the laborers but also of the passengers. The coaches are cleaner, toilets no longer stink, SMS are being responded, and one can order food of one’s own choice.

All of these point towards a beginning in right direction. Of course, currently, there are more issues than solutions but the positive wind cannot be ignored. This was about the common lot, good news is that even the experts and analysts are talking on the same lines.

A research report by Morgan Stanley, The Next India, affirms that there has definitely been a shift in the focus, a shift towards good. The rail budget this year had more of developmental take. It focused on improving quality and not quantity. Better implementation, better services and one very important area – the area of freight was taken up for improvement. Freight can be a source of employment, revenue and ease up congestion. Good freight is a win-win situation for all.

The report states that “given the change in the focus, from throwing more trains at the already constrained network to creating capacity to an increase in speed, we believe that the upside for the traditional gainers will be smaller, with the benefits spread out to newer segments. The need for speed is likely to drive spending towards more technologically complex areas.”

The World Bank estimates that India’s logistics costs (at around 10-14 per cent of sales) are two to three times the best practice benchmark costs, hurting India’s manufacturing competitiveness. We believe that the key reason for this India’s rail network was 2.3 times that of China; today China’s is 1.6 times that of India.

However, the conclusion based on the contemporary graphs is that correction of the sub-optimal mix in the mode of transport, especially freight, could give a sustainable boost to productivity, driving jobs and GDP growth, becoming a true enabler. Railways is said to be the lifeline of India. For long, this lifeline remained moribund. Finally an honest effort is being made to infuse life into this lifeline and this effort is showing results. They are thinking about the passengers, nothing new but the passengers are feeling it that is definitely new. A good new!

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