India is a country, where taxpayers do not have much say on how their tax money is being spent. Our tax is forcefully deducted from our salary at the end of every month. Our political leaders and bureaucrats do not assume that they should be accountable to us common public about amenities and conveniences they create for us.
Last evening I was at the New Delhi railway station. New Delhi station is expected to be a modern railway station. Recently, it has undergone facelift with a lot of public money. Besides, New Delhi, a city that hosted commonwealth games two years before, was touted to become a modern world class city. Sadly, however, none of the dreams and expectations came through.
In order to discourage sundry visitors, railways stopped selling platform tickets. What a funny idea! Enterprising visitors, like my driver, buy ticket for next station from New Delhi and gain entry. This ticket is cheaper or at best equal price to platform ticket. Even if one does not have a platform ticket entry into railway platform is no bar for anyone. No one checks platform tickets. It is a free for all. For honest and genuine, who wants to buy a platform ticket, a long queue awaits. In the end, you may get a ticket but people, whom you came to see off, their train has already left station. I cannot understand, in this day and age, why automatic ticket vending machines cannot be installed at different entry points and in the platform itself. To avoid entry of unscrupulous visitors, why checking of platform ticket not be enforced?
After you have managed to buy a platform ticket, one has to go through a security check. Another joke! Unlike airport, railways experience much bigger footfall. Yet, unlike airport, New Delhi railway station has only four screening machines. Disinterested security personnel look at each baggae with such indifference, that it probably does not matter. In the VIP parking area of New Delhi railway station, that opens in platform 16, there is no personnel to check if some one is avoiding x-ray check of their luggage. I saw a few people doing just that.
Once done with security check, one is faced with the daunting task of climbing overbridge. A modern station should have escalator or elevator. New Delhi has none. Even if it has, it is in select locations, I could not find one. Travelling with aging and infirm is a nightmare. There is no easy and userfriendly way to locate wheel chairs or mechanized buggies. What common and less resourceful people like me is likely to expect is being duped by porters who charge exorbitant price and time to move passengers. Is it too much to put several wheelchairs and / or buggies for ferrying people that cannot go up medieval era overpass?
Waiting on the platform is another unbearable experience. The track below is filled with human waste and sundry other garbage. Stench is overwhelming. Sadly and strangely, passengers are sitting on the platform and enjoying their meal. Is it an expression of helplessness, or total surrender to ones fate or being inured of ones sorroundings? It is true, railways advice travellers not to use washrooms when train is stationary. However, there is no enforcement. In the absence of railways ability and willingness to enforce cleanliness, can they not employ technology like modern toilets equipped in airplane or even in long distance Volvo bus? Can railways not employ people to maintain cleanliness of stations and tracks round the clock?
I am fascinated by railway station and railway journeys. It reflects life. Railway stations are microcosm of India. All kind of people, one objective that is moving from one place to other. Is expecting a clean usefriendly experience and journey too much to expect from our administrators? Most of the time, railway ministers are concerned about poor and do not want to raise fare. Has anyone asked if poor people really love to travel in the condition our railways dishout whether on board a train or on the platform? A point to be noted, between Delhi and Kolkata, there are two Duronto and two Rajdhani express trains, all superfast trains. Yet there is no glut of ticket booking. All trains are booked nearly three months in advanced.
Why crib about railways, when general administrative and governance apathy is seen all over our public services. Our cities get waterlogged. Our airport and metro stations get flooded. Traffic jams throw general public life out of gear. Traffic lights, even 60 years post independence are dysfunctional at normal times, stop functioning. Roads develop potholes creating hazard for humans and vehicles alike. Our children get poisoned food, in the name of mid day meal. Same state of apathy and mismanagement goes on year on year without any accountability.
India needs to seriously decide, does it want a strong administration and strong governance. It is not that India cannot be administered. There are pockets of excellence. A typical case is Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. Same Indians that spoil and soil Indian Railways, use Delhi Metro with care, reasonable care. If our leaders / administrators / managers without playing politics of poverty, show us a glimpse of an alternative that is clean, efficient and reliable people are bound to respect it.