From ceiling fans, blankets, toilet mugs, to iron grills of windows, the Indians Railways conveniently blames its passengers for stealing items worth crores of rupees every year. But, no one questions the Railway Protection Force or other officials for their failure in stopping the thieves. It is obvious, someone stealing ceiling fans and large window grills, or parts of railway track won’t be able to keep the same in their pocket and walk away without being noticed. But hey! Don’t blame the administration.
“Dainik Bhaskar’s sting operation exposed the inconvenient truth”
A CAG report (based on an audit conducted in several trains) released in July 2017 had pointed out that pillows, linen, and blankets were unwashed for two years in some cases. The auditors had also found that pillow covers were made from old bed sheets that were supposed to be discarded. The question is that where do all the brand new items purchased every year go? The answer lies in Dainik Bhaskar’s sting operation.
Between December 9 and 12, journalists from Dainik Bhaskar had conducted a sting operation at multiple locations to expose how IR employees steal various items from trains to make money. Surprisingly, coach attendants from Tatanagar – Chhapra Express, Ranchi – Jaynagar Express, and Saryu Yamuna Express were found selling blankets from compartments for as much as Rs 400 per piece. The report exposed how coach attendants end up selling various items and then wash their hands by merely blaming the passengers for every theft.
“Is every Indian indulged in theft and vandalism?”
After the launch of country’s first semi-luxurious train ‘Tejas Express,’ the railways’ administration claimed that travelers had damaged the train’s LCD systems, soiled the toilets, and stole 12 high-quality headphones that were attached with the entertainment system. Then, dozens of articles were published about how Indians turn into an unruly mob while traveling. Questions were raised about every Indian’s character and if the population deserves to travel in semi-luxurious trains. As usual, no one questioned the railway administration. The IRCTC’s claim about stolen headphones was dicey from day one as the administration had shared conflicting information when it comes to the actual number of stolen devices. The most logical question, why would someone who has paid Rs 1,200 for a single ticket (Rate for the cheapest ticket) steal a headphone worth Rs 30? The train has CCTV cameras in each coach, why is it that the Indian Railways, RPF did not retrieve the CCTV footage and release the identity of those passengers who allegedly took headphones and damaged the LCD screens? Why didn’t the IRCTC initiate legal action instead of issuing news in the media and blaming every railway passenger for the theft?
The RPF, GRP, and state administrators have also failed in controlling stone-pelting incidents that cause damages to local as well as long distance trains in various parts of the country. Passengers injured due to such stone pelting not only end up paying for their treatment but also spend lakhs on advocate fees after approaching the Claims Tribunal for compensation. Increasing the height of boundary walls around the track in vulnerable areas can do the trick. But IR officials are merely making announcements for the same since 2015.
“What’s the problem?”
“The average daily ridership of the Indian Railways is around 30 million passengers. Let’s presume that a minuscule number of travelers out of these might be those who indulge in irrational behavior and steal various items from the train. However, tagging all the passengers as an unruly mob or thieves is surely unacceptable. The inadequate number of RPF personnel to deal with incidents of thefts is also a prominent issue that needs attention. The Indian Railway officials who accuse travelers of stealing its properties should introspect the fact that their staffs such as TTEs and RPF personnel allow the entry of unauthorized vendors, beggars, empty water bottles collectors, etc. in the trains in return of a little sum of money as a bribe. In most of the cases, IR’s employees and these unauthorized vendors, beggars as well as those who collect empty water bottles are the people behind the incidents of theft. It is convenient to shift the blame on the passengers as there is no one to defend them. Dainik Bhaskar’s sting operation has exposed the reality,” said lawyer and RTI activist Rohit Kumar who adores rail journeys.
“PR activities to divert attention from incompetence and corruption”
Under the Modi Government, someone from the Ministry Of Railways has been actively planting stories in the mainstream media with the help of agencies and ‘patriotic’ columnists. News about signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with ISRO for sharing space technology seems fine if published once, but surely not twice, or thrice. The ministry made such announcement in September 2015, March 2016, and then again in September 2017 as well as 2018. In this era of digital news consumption, readers are smart enough to differentiate between ‘real’ news stories and ‘press releases’ that are presented as news articles.
The ‘senior’ journalists who write exclusive stories about the rail ministry often talk about how passengers damage the properties of railways. However, they never write on scams or theft cases involving IR’s employees. Perhaps, they are also allergic to write a word or two on how trackmen/gangmen and other Group D level employees are used as slaves by seniors. The so-called ‘patriotic’ pages run by fringe elements from one political party often share posts blaming passengers for unclean boogies. But they fail to acknowledge that boogies lack something as basic as dustbins and timely cleaning. Toilets at most of the railway stations remain unhygienic in spite of charging a hefty usage fee to passengers.
The ruling party and its workers cum part-time ‘patriotic’ columnists often tweet and appreciate railways for installing water vending machine kiosks. Is offering clean water to passengers at few selected railway stations an achievement for the rail ministry that it should boast about? The answer to all the questions lies in BJP leader Laxmi Kanta Chawla’s recently released video. She criticized Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and his ministry for indulging in publicity stunts and failing to do anything for improving the existing railway service.
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