NEW DELHI: Faced with mounting criticism following a spate of derailments and the September 29 stampede at the Elphinstone Road railway station in Mumbai, the railway ministry has asked its top officials to shun the luxury of their saloons and executive class travel privileges and start travelling in sleeper and AC 3-tier classes to experience the problems of ordinary passengers.
The railway ministry has decided that senior officers, including members of the Railway Board, general managers of railway zones and divisional railway managers (DRMs) in each of the 50 divisions, will undertake long journeys in these classes to get first-hand experience of the services and the problems passengers face.
Normally these officers travel in their special saloon for official purposes but with the new mechanism in place, they will have to move in a typical aam aadmi-style in regular trains. A top railway official said that the move aims at getting first-hand information on the amenities being provided to passengers by the railways.
“It has been decided that the board members, general managers and DRMs will undertake journeys in sleeper and third AC classes to take stock of the condition of coaches. At the same time, services like cleanliness and catering will also be assessed,” said Anil Saxena, director general (PR), Indian Railways.
Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani had also accorded utmost priority to passenger safety and amenities in trains and stations. Soon after taking charge, he held a series of meetings with railway officials and instructed them to spend maximum time in field to assess the situation. He even asked his officers to give up luxuries and unnecessary protocols and work as a team.
The move comes at a time when the railway ministry is facing criticism on several fronts, especially passenger safety, and hygiene and cleanliness on stations and trains. The ministry, which was already under pressure following a series of train accidents in the past few months, found itself on a sticky wicket when a CAG report recently exposed the railways for poor quality of food being served in trains.
The report pointed out that the food served in trains was unfit for consumption. At the same time, it noted the presence of unauthorised vending and inadequate dustbins at stations, besides rampant overcharging for services and goods. Sources in the ministry said safety in moving trains was another key concern of passengers.
They said there were complaints of unauthorised entry of people in reserved coaches and harassment of female passengers, but in most of these cases the train staff failed to act. Complaints have also been pouring in against poor sanitation facilities in trains, particularly stinking toilets and dirty linen.
The railway officials, while travelling in trains, will interact with passengers and assess their satisfaction on the prescribed parameters of services.
“Board members and general managers will travel every two to three months preferably on longer routes so that they can spend maximum time on trains. This will be done to assess the shortcomings, followed by corrections if required,” officials said.
Sources claimed that passenger amenities were also discussed in the safety review meeting, chaired by railway minister Piyush Goyal after the stampede in Mumbai. At least 23 people died on Friday at the Elphinstone Road station of the western line in Mumbai. Goyal gave his officials a weeklong deadline to clear all railwaysrelated issues pending with state agencies. He ordered that 200 officers from headquarters be assigned to field duty for ground operations and project implemen-tation across the country.
The minister also said that in an attempt to cut red tape, general managers have been empowered to “spend whatever is necessary on safety” and that financial and administrative powers will soon be delegated to field units. A statement from the ministry said that “powers beyond limit” have been delegated to general managers to improve situation on the ground.