Railways, clean dirty linen

Passengers on Indian trains will now know why the blankets provided by the Indian Railways stink. Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha has admitted in the Rajya Sabha that the Railways wash blankets just once every two months. While bed sheets and pillow covers are reportedly washed daily, blankets have to wait for two months to get a clean-up. Apparently, the Railways do not have enough mechanised laundries to do the job. This is an unacceptable excuse. Dirty and stinking blankets not only make the travel experience on Indian Railways an unpleasant experience but also, this could cause health problems for passengers. Of course, passengers can carry their own blankets to avoid having to use what the Railways provide. The Railways should not be supplying dirty blankets. If it cannot clean them daily, it should suspend this service, not foist germ-carrying blankets on hapless passengers.

The Indian Railways are known to have a rather laidback approach to cleanliness on trains. Toilets on our trains and at railway stations, for instance, are notorious for their filth and stench. Seats are torn and floors often strewn with litter. Compartments of trains on certain routes are rarely cleaned. However, the Railways are beginning to clean up their act. While presenting the rail budget to Parliament last week, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu announced several measures to keep the railways clean, including setting up of bio-toilets in trains and stations, waste segregation and recycling centres, awareness creation etc. Importantly, instead of enduring filth and stench, henceforth passengers can send an SMS message to the Railways asking for a toilet to be cleaned. These initiatives are welcome.

While providing passengers with clean trains and hygienic food, water and bed linen is the responsibility of the Indian Railways, passengers too have a role to play in keeping facilities clean. The Mahamana Express running between New Delhi and Varanasi was inaugurated on January 22. It was provided with improved facilities and aesthetically appealing furnishing. But within 10 days of its inauguration, the train was a shadow of its original self; seats and compartment walls were stained with paan, wash basins were clogged, toilets were filthy and door knobs and other fittings in the compartment were missing. The government must focus on cleanliness of trains but if passengers want a pleasant travel experience they need to pitch in too and take care of facilities provided.  

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