Issue Should the Railways not provide services commensurate with the rates charged, asks S. SAROJA

The Indian Railways has one of the largest and busiest rail networks in the world. Since its inception in 1853, it has continuously upgraded itself and offers several comprehensive and user-friendly services to the public.

However, certain basic issues that inconvenience passengers during travel have been neglected for long, despite various representations.

For instance, we received a complaint recently from Sukesh, who narrated his bitter experiences during a day journey in a reserved compartment. Though it was a reserved compartment, people who did not possess a reserved ticket boarded the train at all stations. Other than this, vendors and beggars went around the compartment, making it very difficult for passengers to even access the toilets. Moreover, there was always the fear of losing baggage kept beneath the seats or in the storage compartments. When he decided to prefer a complaint, Sukesh could not locate the ticket examiner.

Comfort at a premium?

Similarly, when we travel in additional comfort, the problems we face are of a different nature. A few months ago, I travelled by AC II tier, paying more than four times the regular charges, with the intention to relax.

But, my idea of rest went through the window within five minutes of the train leaving the station, when I found a mouse merrily running around the place. There were cockroaches as well!

My co-passengers also got tensed, and when we complained to the ticket examiner and the attendant, they had nothing much to tell other than that this was a common occurrence. We sat with our legs up all the time, and in constant fear of our belongings' safety.

The anxiety did not end there. At bed time, I found the sheets provided soiled and torn. The attendant was kind enough to give me a spare, but that turned out to be worse. On the whole, it was a nightmarish experience.

Later, while discussing this episode with family and friends, I was told that this was common; in fact, the baggage of a relative of mine was badly damaged and the food items kept inside eaten by the rats. I wrote to the Railway authorities and got a response stating that they were forwarding it to the zone concerned for further action. However, I am yet to hear from them!

Is it not the fundamental duty of the Railway authorities to go in for rodent control and ensure that hygiene is maintained, especially when the consumers are charged at a premium?

In General Manager, South Eastern Railway Vs. Anand Prasad Sinha, when the Railways argued that train passengers were not consumers, the National Commission established an important point with regard to Railways and their service.

It held that the Railways are rendering service for a consideration, and the passengers travelling on payment of a stipulated fee are consumers as defined under the CP Act. Therefore, if there is any deficiency in the services promised, consumers can approach the Consumer Fora to seek redressal.

Being a profit-making PSU, it is vital that the Railways realises its innate obligations to the general public, and improves basic infrastructure and common amenities to facilitate consumers.

(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details/queries contact 24914358/24460387 or helpdesk@cag.org.in)

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