Time for revamp

Time for revamp

Recent reports  of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) on some aspects of the working of the railways have exposed many of its deficiencies and provided guidelines for improvement.

Many of the ills and problems are not unknown and all the suggestions are not new.  But the CAG’s reports give them a new authenticity and value. The auditor found that the railways were near bankruptcy during the Trinamool Congress reign of the ministry, when its funds dwindled from Rs 21,681 crore to Rs1,770 crore in three years. The faulty budgeting procedures and the  poor basis of many administrative decisions of this period have come in for severe criticism. Matters have not improved much subsequently also. The CAG has warned that the meagre or negative balances in reserve funds will adversely impact safety aspects and future expansion of services.

One aspect of the services, which directly affects those who use the railways, is the state of hygiene in trains. Another report of the CAG has severely indicted the railways for poor cleanliness standards in stations and trains. The bad quality of linen and the unhygienic food supplied to passengers show how poor the services are. Cases of food poisoning are not uncommon. It was only recently that an examination of the kitchen in the prestigious Rajdhani Express in Mangalore showed that the kitchen was badly maintained and food articles like inedible chicken and substandard paneer were being given to passengers. Many water bottles were spurious. The CAG’s inspections found that testing of food is not done in many stations. Toilets are always dirty and guidelines on mechanical cleaning of stations and use of pest control measures are not followed. These failures are not always because of lack of funds and resources but because available resources are not properly used. Mismanagement, lack of supervision and corruption are other reasons. Passengers also have to take care to keep trains and platforms clean but the first responsibility rests with the railways.

Yet another report has suggested ways like selling branding rights on stations, trains and tickets so that revenue can be raised to improve the services.  There have also been suggestions like better use of the railways’ large land bank.  While the railways have to raise more revenues, the failure to make the best utilisation of its resources is glaring.

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