Indian Railways is public property (and we take that so literally)

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The announcement – railways aap ki sampatti hain – is taken literally by a few. According to the numbers released by the Western Railway, in the last fiscal alone 1.95 lakh towels were stolen from its long-distance trains, besides 81,736 bedsheets, 55,573 pillow covers, 5,038 pillows, and 7,043 blankets.

Add to this around 200 toilet mugs, close to 1,000 taps, and more than 300 flush pipes stolen every year, and you have the great train robbery playing out due to a few passengers’ petty behaviour.

According to Sunil Udasi, CPRO Central Railway, between April to September 2018 , 79,350 hand towel, 27,545 bedsheets, 21,050, pillow covers, 2,150 pillows and 2,065 blanket were stolen, which were worth Rs. 62 lakh approximately.

On Monday, a Ratlam resident who boarded a long-distance train from Bandra Terminus, ended up becoming the face of such pettiness when he was arrested for stealing three blankets, six bedsheets, and three pillows.

Ratlam resident Shabbir Rotiwala was travelling in an AC coach (B-5) and was spotted by the attendants hastily stuffing the bed linens in his bag before alighting at Ratlam Station, where he was arrested.

The Indian Railways has incurred a loss of around Rs 4,000 crore over the last three fiscals, and thefts on trains contribute to the railways bleeding cash. The coach attendants have to make good the cost of stolen linen and pillows, but washroom fittings and other equipment are a loss to the railways, which is significant.

For instance, the luxurious Tejas Express, which runs between Mumbai and Goa, had Jaguar fittings in its toilets, but most were stolen and replaced with cheaper ones. Mumbai Mirror was the first to report that at least a dozen headphones on board the Tejas Express were stolen and several LED screens were damaged on its maiden run itself in May last year ( ‘Tejas Express: Day One, several headphones stolen’, MM, May 25, 2017). This, on a train whose cheapest ticket costs Rs 1,185.Just two weeks ago, Mirror had reported the carnage on board the Mumbai-Manmad Panchavati Express, which recently got Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches, with better features and comfort, at the cost of Rs 38 core. The Mirror report ( ‘Passengers savage plush Nashik train coach in 4 months’, September 18) highlighted that tray tables on the train were damaged, armrests were dislodged or made unusable, upholstery was damaged, curtains torn, and health faucets, taps, trash bins and mirrors were stolen, leaving the railways with a repair bill of Rs 9 lakh.
The Western Railway sources said railway property worth Rs 2.5 crore was stolen last fiscal, and we are not even considering the properties damaged. “The cost of each bedsheet is Rs 132, while a towel costs Rs 22 and a pillow Rs 25. It is the coach attendants’ responsibility to ensure every item is returned by the passengers,” a railway source said.

“Trains that are launched now have facilities such as sensor-driven taps and CCTV cameras, and these fittings don’t even last the trains’ maiden journeys. The railways then replace them with cheaper ones,” the source said.

The Western Railway’s chief public relation officer, Ravinder Bhakar, called thefts on trains both “embarrassing and unfortunate”. “The railways’ endeavour is to provide high-class facilities and passengers should co-operate. We have on a trial basis started giving out disposable towels and pillow covers on a few trains,” Bhakar said.

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