Only ‘surgical strikes’ of reforms and transparency can save Indian Railways from further deterioration. The change of guard won’t do any good if fundamentals of Indian Railways are not upgraded. Ensuring optimum utilisation of each and every penny and every second of employee remains the biggest challenge for those at the helm of managing Indian Railways. So long as the ability to fix the responsibility is not developed by higher ups; jobs are not linked to accountabilities and proper annual auditing, things are not going to improve.
From the platform ticket to travel ticket to sanitation to food to toilet, there is hardly any area which offers complete satisfaction to travellers. It is, in fact, TINA—there is no alternative factor—which keeps Indian Railways going. The nexus between private cartels and their alleged mentors in Indian Railways needs to be eliminated. Travelling with tickets in our trains is a lifetime experience, while the waiting halls and toilets are the places where the visitors are scared to chip in. If given a better option, they will never ever look towards these facilities. These facilities are certainly better for AC travellers, but that too not beyond a point.
So far as infrastructure is concerned, less we talk the better. The money annually spent on infrastructure upgradation rarely reflects at the ground level. Rail tracks to over bridges to technological upgradation, there is hardly any area wherein we have 100 per cent satisfaction level. Every year a number of people are killed due to unmanned rail crossings. Many mishaps take place due to wrong signaling. Negligence is rampant. The huge mismatch between capacity and need leads to stampede, causing several deaths every year, but in vain. The sacrifice and loss of lesser mortals rarely jolt the powers-that-be.
There is a pressing need to bring in transparency and accountability in the functioning of Indian Railways. Corruption rules the roost. One can travel easily without having a proper ticket if he has the art of managing ticket traveller examiners (TTEs), while the poor passengers who travel in general compartment in inhuman-like conditions are harassed by TTEs for violating travel norms. The real change will come when tax payers’ money is properly utilised and is not wasted. Security is another area of concern, which has never attracted the attention of powerful people, the people who matter in deciding policies for Indian Railways.
Those managing trains in China, Japan, African nations, South Korea, US, Germany and other countries are also humans. Any kind of accidents is a rarity in those countries. Stampede at railway stations is rarely reported from other countries. Their crowd management is much better than ours, while there is not much difference between qualifications and intelligence quotient of our people and that of other countries. It is high time for India to give up status quoist approach and work with honesty and dedication to take Indian Railways to the next level of efficiency. After all, how long India can afford undermining the sacrifices of poor and other lower-middle class passengers!
(The writer is an independent commentator on socio-economic and political issues. Views are his personal)