People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 25

June 20, 2010

Travel Travails


G Mamatha


IT is summer folks! Time to stretch your legs, unwind and go places! Or, so scream many advertisements in the media these days. It is claimed that many Indians, these days, have taken to leisure and holidays, putting them at the top in the list of tourists. Of course, it is only 'claimed' and could be a relative term. A overwhelming majority of the Indians do not enjoy the privilege of 'leisure' and 'holiday' – what, with their meagre incomes, insufficient even for sustenance. Even among the majority of the middle-classes, to go on a vacation at least once a year, needs a lot of planning and saving.


Summer is also a time of vacation for schools. And children get all the time to spend in their homes with their parents and friends, to laugh, play and enjoy. Or is it only to be supposed – supposing that the schools would allow them the 'leisure' and do not try to 'ignite' their 'otherwise static' minds, fearing they get 'rusty,' (remember, idle man's brain is a devil's workshop, etc.) with some creative work to do in these holidays – simply put holiday homework. Many a times, this becomes an exercise for parents rather than for children. They also have to look after the children 24*7, remember there is no school. This, once again, forces them to think, in spite of the cries of the household economic crisis, about travel during holidays. Resting my case of undertaking a travel, listen to some of the travails.


Travelling was supposed to be fun. Yes, in the past tense. Now, not at all. A part of the story, I have already narrated regarding the economic costs, etc. But, the other part is, if you are travelling, do not read this. For that matter, do not read any newspaper or listen to any news bulletin. They are scary.


Earlier, whenever my work needed me to go places, the usual advice would be, prefer rail journey. Road travel is considered risky. Bus falling in a ditch, car ramming a tree, truck running over an auto...1 dead, 5 dead, 10 dead...only one or none survived. Bad roads, scarce availability of public transport, privatisation of public transport, necessity of 'urgency,' together with reckless driving are attributed to be the reasons for labelling road travel as unsafe. Even pedestrians are hit and cyclists killed. So, travel in trains was the advice.


But now, think about the trains! If you follow the news regularly, you would know what I mean. Apart from the trains 'jumping tracks', now we have a new threat – trains running (or rather falling) on no tracks. It seems, some of the 'friends of railways' are interested in making trains run on the tracks, a part of which has been sliced by them. If it results in the death of some or many (numbers are all relative, you see), they are not bothered. It is not they, but we who are dying. To us they preach, all that takes birth is to die one day.  Think of all those mothers who cry for their lost beloveds - haven't you wept while giving birth and all these years breaking your back bringing up your wards. Cry. Neither the 'friends of railways' nor the 'Didi of railways' feel for your tears. They need you, not your tears. Agreed that the former do not have any direct responsibility to ensure the safety of the trains, but the head of the 'railways family' should at least have some semblance of responsibility. Responsibility...yes, they show it by condoling the deaths, ordering enquiries and offering compensation. Ah, life's value is measured not when you live, but after you die. Who says it is enjoying power without responsibility?


With a lot of theatrics, the Vision 2020 document of the railways and a white paper on the state of affairs of the railways was released by the current head of the railways, the honourable minister. She, of course, found time from her extremely 'busy schedule' to release the document in Delhi. Zero mishap rate was announced as the chief goal. The very next day, the country woke-up not to one, but three rail accidents.


According to official records, 50 per cent of rail accidents occur due to derailments. The next major factor is level crossings, which account for nearly one-third. 70 per cent of the fatalities in rail accidents occur at unmanned rail crossings. Where lies the responsibility of the railways? 50 per cent of the level crossings are unmanned as the railways are not appointing personnel to man them. It was announced in the parliament that about 1.70 lakh posts are lying vacant in the railways and in April 2009, it surrendered 50 per cent of these vacancies. Another 80,000 posts are lying vacant in safety and running staff departments. With so many posts of gangmen, pointsmen, signalmen and assistant station masters lying vacant, it means there is a huge lack of “foot-soldiers” to patrol railway tracks spread over 63,000-plus kilometres across the country. The icing on the cake is –railways has decided to surrender all such posts that remain vacant for more than six months, simply meant, abolish the posts rather than fill the vacancies. Oh, didi, how concerned you are for your bhai, behene and their future!


And if someone mistakenly thinks that the 'motherly' concern of the minister ends here, hold on. The minster wants all her staff to 'work hard' for the railways. So hard, that against the stipulated seven hour-and-25-minute duty, train drivers were putting in between 14 to 16 hours each day and that too without a weekly rest or a compulsory off. Unfortunately, they are drivers and not ministers! Drivers cannot be absent from work, the trains will not move. Anyway, what else could they do, except work. Sitting at home, they can neither enjoy leisure nor a vacation. Remember they do not draw the same salary as our simpleton minister!


Of course, the minister rightly deserves her salary. She too puts in a lot of work – discusses with the 'friends of railways', thinks, strategises, devises means to achieve her dreams. Her dreams, she wants to realise at any cost, even at the cost of ruining the dreams and lives of thousands. Quiet a work indeed! Come on, being a lady of action, this burdensome work can be done only from ground zero and not from drawing rooms. If a drawing room is all what you are interested in, bring it nearer to the ground zero, why Delhi? Grow up, these are not old days, where one needs to be in the office to discharge one's 'duties'. It is the age of mobile telephony, internet, teleconferences, video conferences and of course, tweeting. Moreover, if some files needs to be transported, don't we have those trains and, they can bring some officials too without worrying about reservations. In this new age, it is the mountain that needs to come to the king, or is it the queen, whichever seems more apt for this case.


You think all these affect the performance of the railways? Listen to the wisely lieutenant of the honourable railway minister, “Jahan 63,000 km track ho aur 10,000 gadian chalti hon, wahan ek-do accident chalta rehta hai” (where there is 63,000 km of track and 10,000 trains move, no big deal that one or two accidents happen). Given this attitude, you can always brush aside the death of 150-odd passengers, when some of your most wanted and trusted friends sabotage the track, with chalta rehta hai (it happens) theory. If somebody expects you to be more serious, you can always cry 'political conspiracy to malign me'. All those 'maanush' who have been killed and joined the 'matti'  remain statistics, just that. Did anybody say these incidents are a blot on our performance? Remember we have the numbers.


Attention passengers, Prayanik krupiya dhyan de: Do not board in either of the 1-2 trains that could meet with accidents. Try your luck, pray and hope that you board in the third train, which may not face the same fate.


We wish you a happy and safe journey, Hum aapka sukhad yatra ka kamna karte hain!


Amazing that the 'owners' of the railways, the people of our country, are made to suffer because of the myopic vision of the manager, the concerned minister. Provide the workers adequate facilities, change the manager and travel safely. Constitution guarantees us the right to life and also the right to travel without restrictions within the country. Combine both of them together, and you can easily say, safe travel is a right too.


Do not forget, life is a struggle. You have to fight to travel. You have to fight even more for safe travel. The world is as safe as you make it. The only way to make it safe is by fighting for rights.