Fifty-two-year-old Prabha Devi’s attempt to catch the Muzaffarpur Sampark Kranti Express from Anand Vihar terminal in Delhi on Thursday left her wounded with her bangles breaking and injuring her wrists, courtesy stampede-like situation caused by a huge crowd trying to board the unreserved class compartment.
Once settled near the window along with at least seven persons on a seat meant for three, she draws a complete blank when asked what problems passengers of the unreserved category face in train travel. Ask her about what railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal should do to improve the situation for passengers like her, she says with a wail, “Kya karenge sarkar, khali kiraya badaye ja rahe hain. Hum log janwar ke tarah chalet hain (What will the government do. They are only increasing the fares. We are made to travel in animal-like situation).”
People like Prabha Devi who travel in the general class form more than half of the 2.2 crore passengers who travel by train everyday. Of the 1.9 crore unreserved passengers daily, 75 lakh use the Mumbai sub-urban network.
And the list of their woes is really long, fare hike being the most sticky one. For Bharat, waiting in a queue in Delhi to board the Patna-bound Sampoorna Kranti Express, fare hike is a huge stress and he would like Bansal not to hike the fare in this category. “I work as a labourer. Our remuneration has not risen and the railway fares have gone up,” said Bharat. After the January 22 revision, fare for the unreserved class from New Delhi to Patna has gone up to Rs 245 from Rs 210.
This class of passengers says the number of general class compartments should be increased. Md Nirale going to Muzaffarpur from Delhi says, “There should be more general bogeys. We should have at least a few full general-bogey trains.”
The concerns of the passengers travelling in AC classes are very different. They do not mind the increase in fare but look forward to a bang for the buck.
Forty-five-year-old Chitra Vishwanathan — waiting at the Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station to board the August Kranti Rajdhani to Mumbai — says she won’t mind if the government increases the fares provided it improves services and infrastructure. “If we can buy expensive air tickets, we can also pay for higher train fares. But will that result in good services like cleaner toilets, improved railroad and personal safety and better quality of food?”
For women, the common concern is safety on trains. Meena, a 28-year-old professional dancer, says she doesn’t feel safe travelling alone even in AC coaches. “It would be good if the Railway Police Force has women constables patrolling trains,” she says.
In Mumbai, local commuters want AC coaches in suburban trains. Aniruddha Saha, a first-class sub-urban commuter at Mumbai CST, says, “We have been hearing about air-conditioned local trains, but are yet to see them. Can I travel to office in comfort and not get jostled?”
Adds Ranjini Sekhar, who travels by second-class in the Mumbai local train, “The ladies are the worst affected in this rush. Mumbai’s sub-urban railway system does not even have enough toilets for ladies on their network. The system needs a complete overhaul.”
Mumbai dabbawallas say the fares should not be increased. “Our business runs on the sub-urban railway. The railways should not increase fares as it will threaten the dabbawalla business and lead to its end. We have meager margins and any further hike would lead to imbalance,” said Raghunath Medge-Patil, president of the Mumbai’s dabbawallah association.
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