It sought to compete with IRCTC by launching its own site

The Indian Railways have been virtually dragged off course during the last three years in what seems to be a desperate bid by ministers belonging to the Trinamool Congress to diversify the activities of this behemoth national transporter from its core business, in order to route its resources to West Bengal.

The single-minded pursuit of Mamata Banerjee, as it would appear, might just have been to have the Railways under her control, and use its funds and enormous expanse of land for diverse purposes in the State.

Some of her other decisions too proved disastrous or were questionable.

After taking charge as Railway Minister, Ms. Banerjee initiated moves to set up various tiers of medical facilities and colleges and nursing schools, and also schools for children on railway land at various locations, including, of course, West Bengal.

Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal signed the respective MoUs with the Railway Ministry, despite tardiness in the execution of projects in their respective ministries.

It was clear that they both had signed these MoUs with the Railway Ministry under directions from their bosses.

The fate of such commitments need hardly be stressed.

Suffice it to say that the tender for setting up a medical college-cum-hospital, as the first initiative in this direction, in West Bengal, under the PPP mode, didn’t evoke any response from any of the private players in the health sector.

Needless to say, both her successors, Dinesh Trivedi and Mukul Roy, had, with gusto, pursued these projects — though without much success.

Despite the keenness to open schools on railway land, some people pointed to reported action that had been initiated to close some of the schools operated by the Railways during the three years of Trinamool Congress members ruling the roost at the Rail Bhavan.

During Ms. Banerjee’s tenure, the Railways sought to compete with the IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited) by launching its own website to sell passenger tickets.

The portal was launched only to be shut down as quickly, without assigning any reason, raising a few questions in the process.

According to sources in the Railways, the website proved a disaster.

The allegation was that the tickets got sold, but due to some problem in the payment gateway, the money wasn’t routed to the account of the Railways.

It was said that some people enjoyed a free ride and the buzz in the Rail Bhavan corridors was that there was a loss on this account.

Officials refused to quantify the amount.

The Railways then took away the catering job from the IRCTC with the goal of improving services, and the quality of the food served in trains and stations.

The outcome could be gauged from the number of complaints which poured in.

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