If you think the railways are finally shining as Modiji had promised before coming to power, think again. The latest report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) puts it under the dock because there are too many things that need to be fixed but aren’t.
The food that the railways serve is not good enough for human consumption. Eatables like flavoured milk, juices, sandwiches, biscuits and other snacks served inside trains don’t even match the basic standards of hygiene. During a surprise inspection at selected 74 stations and 80 trains, the level of cleanliness and hygiene was not up to mark at catering units. There were as many as 21 stations across 11 railways zones where purified water was not available.
There were 22 trains, in which the catering staff was using dirty water for preparing beverages like coffee, tea and soups. Unsold food items were often recycled in the base kitchen without any thought for hygiene. In some cases, even the toilet water was used for making tea and coffee. Waste bins were dilapidated and their covers were missing and it was neither regularly emptied nor washed.
Food stuffs were lying in the open and there was no arrangement to protect them from flies, insects and dust. In almost every train rats and cockroaches were found. The report says frequent changes in catering policy and lack of accountability to manage catering units have created a state of uncertainty in the management of entire operation. Even after paying extra for faster travel, there is no guarantee one will reach one’s destination in time.
Railways levied and collected an amount of 11.17 crore rupees from passengers as ‘superfast’ surcharges. Surprisingly, 21 superfast trains were late on 3,000 days out of total 16,804 as they failed to attain the ‘superfast’ speed, says the CAG report and some of the superfast trains were delayed almost 95% times. A study which was made on the movement of some of the superfast trains between 2013 and 2016 revealed that Kolkata-Agra Cantt Superfast train was late on138 days out of 145.
The blankets which are provided during overnight train journeys were not washed for months. The cleanliness level for linen was found to be heavily compromised in railways. The CAG report, pointed out that the washing and sanitation of linen as well as blankets is not being done as per hygiene standards set by the railways.
As per railway manual, washing of linen should be done after every single use and blankets are supposed to be dry-cleaned in every two months but in most of the cases it just remained a directive. In as many as 14 selected depots, in nine zonal railways, not even a single blanket was found to be dry-cleaned during the said period and except for seven depots under five zonal railways, linens were not sanitized in the other selected depots.
Let us see what the latest CAG report says about the financial health of Indian Railways. During 2016-17, the total revenue receipts was Rs1,65,382.49 crore which decreased by 1.78 % as compared to the total revenue receipts of Rs 1,68,379.60 crore during 2015-16. This was significantly below CAGR of 10.09% % during the period 2012-16. The freight earnings was Rs 1,04,338.54 crore in 2016-17, a decrease of 4.46 % as compared to Rs 1,09,207.66 crore during 2015-16. The growth in freight earnings was negative as compared to previous years’ growth of 3.23 %. The Growth in Freight Income was +10.1%. in 2012-16
The earnings from passengers fare was Rs 46,280.46 crore, an increase of 4.51 % in 2016- 17 as compared to Rs 44,283.26 crore during 2015-16. This was below the CAGR of 12.23 % registered during 2012-16. Total Working Expenditure during 2016-17 was Rs 1,59,029.61 crore as compared to 1,47,835.93 crore during 2015-16. The net surplus after meeting all revenue liabilities stood at Rs 4,913.00 crore in 2016- 17 as against Rs 10,505.97 crore in 2015-16, despite the fact that no dividend was paid during 2016-17 as compared to Rs 8,722.51 crore dividend paid during 2015-16.
The Operating Ratio during the 2016-17 had deteriorated to lowest in last 18 years, an all-time low since 2000-01 when it was 98.34 %. Had the actual amount of Rs 40,025.95 crore required to meet the expenditure on pension payments been appropriated to the Pension Fund, the total gross working expenditure of IR would have increased to Rs 1,64,537.93 crore and the Operating Ratio would work out to 99.54 %. Thus Operating Ratio of 96.50 % does not reflect the true financial performance of the Railways.
The auditor also examined the flexi-fare scheme of Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi trains introduced in September 2016. After the flexi-fare came into existence, the occupancy in all classes except Sleeper class in Duronto decreased. Even in AC 3 tier, one of the most profit generating segments, the occupancy dropped significantly after introduction of the flexi-fare scheme, and the share of empty berths increased from 0.66 % to 4.46 %.
Indian Railways had earned Rs 5.52 billion from passenger earnings from premier trains in the period between September 2016 to July 2017. The parking system of Railways was also criticised by CAG. It found that in many cases, Railways did not sign the agreements in time and in few cases it didn’t bother to go for agreements.
In a major blow to General Electric’s plan to come up with a diesel locomotive manufacturing unit at Marhoura in Bihar, the CAG categorically said that project was not in sync with the overall strategic vision of Railways. The Indian Railways plans to complete electrification of its broad-gauge routes by 2021. Even the freight trains will run in dedicated freight corridors on electricity. It is expected that most of the high-traffic routes would be electrified in the near future and the need for diesel traction would remain restricted to low-traffic routes, for which high-powered diesel locomotives were not likely to be used optimally.
Railway accidents and derailments are frequent features of Indian Railway and Govt always comes with one or the other excuse. After every rail accident, ministers and officers come with all types of statements, committees are formed but end result in almost every case is zero.
The Railway safety funds were not fully utilized since 2002 and despite funds being available, the safety measures were not adopted. In 60% of cases the projects related to safety was stuck up and 80% funds for safety was surrendered because lack of utilization. More than 1400 unmanned railway crossings remained as it was and construction of approximately 1000 over bridges remained stalled.
On an average more than 100 small or big accidents take place in a year but owing to delays and lack of coordination, crores of funds have either lapsed or just went down the drain. Not everything is hunky dory in the engineering deptt of railways either. There is problem with the internal manufacturing and lacuna in planning.
On account of absence of good planning, the capacity utilization is poor. In some cases the manufacturing cost of some equipment is almost five times of the market price of same. The latest CAG report not only points a finger to its internal deficiencies but it also exposes its commitment towards passengers’ safety. It won’t be an exaggeration if we say that Railways in Modi Govt has finally become a Failways!