My parents were travelling from ShivGanga Express (12559 – Varanasi to New Delhi) last evening. The train, considered the most important one between Varanasi and New Delhi, starts from the Manduadih station (MUV), one of the sub-stations of the Varanasi Railway Junction, at 7:40 PM and arrives in New Delhi (NDLS) at 8:10 AM the next day. And the thing is, its gets delayed daily. Okay, don’t get swayed by Indian Railways’ National Train Enquiry System (NTES) app on your smartphone or – – its desktop version.

They work overtime to do the damage control that has become synonymous with Indian Railways – chronic delays. Most of the time, they end up showing ‘earlier than real’ time of a train’s arrival. But this ‘jugaad’ hurts the Indian Railway’s misplaced pride even more. The network that has been busy fleecing passengers during some last years to increase its revenue, with measures like dynamic fare pricing as air carriers do or Premium Tatkal scheme that makes even a sleeper class ticket as expensive as AC-II or AC-III, has absolutely failed to meet the most basic need of any transport network – timely arrival and departure of trains. And mind you, most of this is due to its human network. The irony of all this is, you can easily find cheaper airfares for the same route than what some of premium trains offer.

And when even most of its premium trains routinely get delayed – including Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto – we don’t need to do much data digging about the state of affairs with the superfast trains, like the one my parents were travelling from. And last evening and this morning were no different. The train usually starts getting late as it passes the Allahabad Junction. By the time the train arrives in Kanpur, already an hour or two late, it enters the phase where it adds up delayed minutes to its quantum quite regularly, so much so, that by the time it reaches in the catchment area of Delhi, it becomes a nightmare for passengers.

These are the snapshots of the NTES app this morning that show how Indian Railways takes us for a ride. The screenshots taken at 10:36 AM show the train is delayed by 2.21 hours and will reach Delhi by 10:31 AM. We can give the NTES benefit of doubt here as the site may take some minutes in updating the information.

So I called my parents at 10:41 AM to confirm if the train had arrived so that I could ask the driver to approach them but what they told me, in turn told me, that the train was still hours away, even if it was just 15 Kms away from the New Delhi railway station. The train was just crossing the Anand Vihar Terminal. I again called them at 11:10 AM and they said the same thing, that they were still in the Anand Vihar area.

I again checked the NTES app at 11:13 AM. It was now showing the train was delayed by 2.48 hours with its expected New Delhi arrival at 10:48 AM. But here is this thing to see. This information on the NTES app was updated at 10:39 AM, 39 minutes after the last update at 10 AM as we can see in the screenshots but both show the same last station departed – ‘Departed from Chipyana Buzurg at 9:55 AM 23 Nov. 29 Kms to arrive New Delhi.’ So, in a sense, no real time update. The maps of the train route are also showing the same pointers.

I again checked the NTES app at 11:24 AM. And bingo, this time it showed the train had arrived New Delhi at 11:05 AM (delayed by 2.55 hours). The information was updated at 11:18 AM. Keeping in mind the history of the NTES app for giving misleading information, I called my parents at 11:25 PM to confirm it. And guess what they said. They told me that the train was still standing at the Shivaji Bridge station, almost 1.5 Kms away from the New Delhi railway station. The train finally arrived at the New Delhi railway station at 11:37 AM, delayed by 3.27 hours.



Some headlines from the past hour on the Rail Budget 2016 are:

Rail Budget growth-oriented, but revenue target will be a challenge, says industry – Times of India
Rail Budget gets a thumbs down on D-Street for fourth consecutive time – Economic Times
Rail Budget 2016: PwC says investment to be a challenge for Railway amid flat traffic, high costs – Economic Times
Rail Budget 2016: Railway-related stocks fall up to 10% on Dalal Street – Business Today
Big proposals, no fare hike: How Suresh Prabhu avoided the bitter pill in Rail Budget 2016 – Firstpost
On Rail Budget day, Indian rupee hits new 30-month low at 68.72 vs US dollar – Financial Express

These are just few from the lot of analytical pieces written – taking sides based on the parameters taken into consideration – but overall, it is a mixed bag with the obvious question – that asks – how – a how that can unravel every good intention behind a Railway Budget that is otherwise logical and future oriented.

The Rail Budget 2016 started on a logical note – with no-nonsense announcements and proposals. In its initial run, as Suresh Prabhu, the Rail Minister started presenting it, it sounded the most logical Rail Budget in the recent times.

The budget began with more emphasis on improving passenger services and amenities this year – something long overdue – than announcing mindlessly new trains to appease votebanks – but in the end, it came out to be pretty ambitious – and that is the whole point behind raising questions – shadowing the positive senses.

The Rail Budget 2016 is passenger centric, policy change centric and future centric that also intends to be ‘work culture change’ centric. It, in fact, talks vehemently about it.

But given the sorry state of the affairs at Indian Railways, we need to be sceptical. In fact, we need cynical questions here.

Indian Railways is a mammoth organization employing maximum number of people in the world’s largest democracy and claiming a robust outreach network in almost every part of country barring the North-East. It is good that this strategically important last mile connectivity is now a priority of the government. And so, Indian Railways is the lifeline of the nation as the majority here still cannot afford air-travel.

But Indian Railways is a corrupt and defunct organization. Corruption, in fact, has percolated in every wing of its functioning – from tickets checkers or TTEs travelling in trains to booking clerks duping innocent people on ticket booking windows to its officials (in every hue) sitting in its zonal offices to its headquarters in Delhi.

And this corruption is vivid and variegated – from petty offences like TTEs illicitly pocketing money in trains to senior level officers cornering big convenience money in freight handling to big commission in projects.

Unless that culture is not corrected, any attempt to take Indian Railways on a futuristic journey of course correction is impossible.

So, whatever Mr. Suresh Prabhu intends to do with his reformative tools, with newly proposed three freight corridors, with no hike in passenger and freight fare to build on volume, with more and more use of technology in enabling Railways to act more passenger customer friendly, with ways to increase revenue, with plans to build infrastructure including private collaboration, we need to keep in mind that it is about mindset change – a mindset that travels through the floodgates of bribes and other modes of illicit money.

The chronic corruption that has infested every part and every appendage of the huge machinery that Indian Railways is.

A mindset change is a long and tedious process with no timeframe and with no guarantee of outcome. It may happen. It may not happen. It becomes even more complicated when the ‘mindset’ is shaped by corruption as is the case with Indian Railways.

And Mr. Suresh Prabhu is one of its most prime examples. He is very active on Twitter. In fact, his alertness on Twitter is an example for all other ministers to follow – but only as long as it pleases him. He doesn’t like to act on or respond to negative tweets.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –