Decline without a fall
Sir — Will the truth about the Dhantola robbery-molestation-rape case ever be known (Proof of rape in looted buses”, Feb 27)' There has been too much dilly-dallying, accusations and counter-accusations and concealment of facts for the people to have any more faith in the system. The strange inaction (which later graduated to a rather reluctant and inadequate action) of the state’s women’s commission and human rights commission in particular have dashed the last flickering hopes of the public. Like Bapi Sen, who has been forgotten in less than two months, Dhantola too will become just another name in the administrative files in no time. The police-ruling party nexus will continue to flourish, swelling the ranks of the communists with people eager to have their unholy acts shoved under the carpet by the powerful benevolence of the leaders. A few, like us, will rue the decline of governance, law and order in the state without being able to do anything about it.
Shekhar Sarkar, Howrah
Sir — Nitish Kumar’s politically safe railway budget proved that politicians never care to glance at the economic side of things. And perhaps with good reason. When did sound economics — these days all about robbing poor Peter to pay rich Paul — win an election' Kumar’s idea of a reduction in freight charges and passenger fares in the popular Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Jan Shatabdi trains seems justified, since Indian Railways has been facing increasing competition from private airlines and even road transport operators. But the abolition of cross-subsidies from freight to passenger traffic opens the avenue for fare increase in the coming years.
A 9 per cent rise in pension expenses for railway employees and a 7 per cent rise in working expenses are worrying from the government’s point of view. The decision to bear the losses incurred by Konkan Railways and a fall in number of passengers compound the ministry’s headache. Strangely, the much-needed development programme — including work on new lines, gauge conversion, track doubling and track renewal — has been largely left untouched. Given that there has been 1,300 minor and major rail accidents in the last three years, it was expected that the railway minister would focus more on technical upgradation.
Abhijit Roy, Jamshedpur
Sir — The railway budget 2003-04 is expectedly along populist lines. Which gives much reason to fear that many of the sops granted by Nitish Kumar will be taken away as soon as the election results are out. As far as West Bengal is concerned, there has long been a demand for a double line in the Kharagpur-Midnapore section, where it takes about two hours to cross a distance of only 13 kilometres. Also, the century-old Cossy bridge in this section was to have been re-constructed. None of these has been considered by Nitish Kumar. The citizens of two important towns of Bengal, Kharagpur and Midnapore, have no reason to be happy with this railway budget.
Sudarsan Nandi, Rangamati, Midnapore
Sir — Nitish Kumar has announced freight concession on petrol, diesel, LPG among other things to an extent of 10.7 per cent to 7.5 per cent. Does this mean that there will be an effective reduction in the prices of these items in the near future'
Sunil Dass, Calcutta
Sir — The age limit for senior citizens for availing themselves of railway fare concessions has been lowered to 60 from 65. An excellent decision. But this is not to overlook the fact that many other pressing problems have been left unaddressed. There is a need to check unreserved travelling. This is a menace for passengers who get their reservations one or two months in advance and still have to travel uncomfortably in a congested compartment. The bona fide passengers also have to spend their travelling time in dread, lest a few of their unreserved co-passengers turn out to be thieves or robbers.
The bathrooms in most trains are dirty and stinking. They must be maintained properly. All trains must run on time as far as possible. The speed of the trains have to be increased. Train accidents in the past have been caused mostly by human error and not because trains exceeded the speed limit. Instead of long and winding routes — this budget has proposals for a few more of these — it is better to have shorter routes with more change-over facilities.
First-class compartments had best be done away with, since they have few users. There should be exclusive ticket counters selling platform tickets at stations, saving people — particularly the women and the elderly — time and trouble. Accommodation for transit passengers must be expanded.
Mahesh Kapasi, New Delhi
Sir — This year’s railway budget offers a lot of things, but misses out on many others. Cleanliness at stations and trains are still at a premium. There are no doctors at hand in case of an emergency unless one chances upon one travelling on the same train. The passengers need to be given a list of doctors travelling with them in case they need medical help during the journey. The menace of touts at reservation counters need to be stopped.
As far as fares are concerned, only steep fares of a few semi-luxury trains have been reduced by the railway minister. What use is it to the ordinary passenger'
The provision of paying with credit cards is a welcome idea, but in many cases, the men behind the counter are reluctant to let the customer use this facility, since they find cash easier to handle. Railway staff must be given an orientation course in customer care.
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta
Sir — Nitish Kumar has probably aimed at erasing memories of the many rail accidents during the last year with this year’s rail budget (“Nitish gambles on twin hopes”, Feb 27). No doubt the idea is to bag more votes in the coming elections by handing out a few lollies to the people. Travelling by train used to be an entirely different experience even twenty years ago. It was quite convenient to travel in general compartments because of the excellent services provided there. The services provided in the second class today are nowhere near that. Shouldn’t Indian Railways be giving a 50 per cent concession to senior citizens as the airlines do' If that is too far-fetched, why not at least a 40 per cent concession for citizens above 70 years, in addition to the present 30 per cent discount for those above 60'
Arabinda Bose, Calcutta