METRO PLUS

Parcel of woes

When Manoj Kumar decided to despatch his motorcycle through the Railway parcel service, he would not have dreamt of the nightmare that was to follow. Kumar, who sent his bike from Bhopal to Chennai, was shocked when the station officials at Chennai said his bike had gone to some other destination. He registered a complaint with the Non-Receipt cell (NR cell). After three weeks of anxiety and frustration, Kumar received his vehicle, but in a damaged condition.

Gopalakrishnan sent his consignment of refrigerator and crockery items from Thrissur to Chennai. But even after two weeks, the parcel is yet to reach him. He is now planning to file a complaint with the Chief Claims Officer to trace the parcel.

Is the Indian Railways losing credibility on account of its parcel service system? Seemingly so, if the number of cases registered at its NR cell is any indication. In 2001-2002, there were 2,691 cases of parcel miscarriage. Though the official recovery rate is pegged at around 95 per cent, the inordinate delay in tracing consignments (even up to six months in some cases) is prompting more and more people to switch their loyalty to the road transport sector, which on the contrary, is more predictable and also takes care of the ``last mile problem'' by taking goods to the doorstep of the customer.

Though the railway officials themselves admit there is slackness and indifference when it comes to delivering parcels, they cite social obligations, incomplete markings and limited time intervals as being major hurdles. They also claim that there has been a huge reduction in the number of complaints and compensatory claims made over the past couple of years.

"With the introduction of NR cells there has been a decline of around 40 per cent in the number of complaints made during the last financial year. Compensatory claims have also fallen from 6,775 cases in 2000-2001 to 3,674 in the year 2001-2002," says S. Mohan, Chief Claims officer.

Ironically, it is social obligations that have become a liability for the railways today. "Almost every week, we have to transport a dead body to some part of the country or the other. This means a displacement of parcels equivalent to a weight of four tonnes. Last year alone, we incurred a loss of around 252 tonnes," says A. Gopinathan, station manager, Southern Railway.

In order to reduce the liability, the railways have now started inviting private sector participation in parcel services. "We have already leased around 100 tonnes to private parties for a period of one year," adds Gopinathan.

"The markings on the consignments are often misleading," remarks Yesuratnam Koppula, divisional commercial manager. "For instance, if a consignor wants to send a parcel to New Delhi, he should write `NDLS' on the parcel.

But if he omits the `S' and writes just NDL, the parcel will go to some other destination. Moreover, the time given for unloading at intermediary stations is also limited," he says.

According to him, geographical loading of parcels, (sending parcels through direct destination trains) and adherence to the prescribed packing norms could go a long way towards prompt delivery of consignments.

SANGEETH KURIAN

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