Monday, 30th October 2017

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Mugged: the great Indian train robbery

This could be an example of the Prime Minister's Clean India campaign stopping dead in its "tracks".

By Rasheed Kidwai in Bhopal
  • Published 4.01.17

Bhopal, Jan. 3: This could be an example of the Prime Minister's Clean India campaign stopping dead in its "tracks".

The Indian Railways is finding out that its experiment with mugs in train lavatories is, well, a mug's game.

Jabalpur Division of West Central Railway has lost 1,100 of the 1,800 steel mugs it had installed in train toilets over the past three months despite chaining them to the wall.

"We have tried everything to create awareness, discourage people from taking away these mugs but nothing seems to be working," Surendra Yadav, chief PRO, West Central Railway, said.

Till a year ago, only some AC coaches had mugs in their loos. But recently, the railways began providing them in all categories of compartments though not all trains have been covered yet.

Jabalpur Division started off three months ago. When a recount was done after 90 days, there were just 700 of the 1,800 mugs left.

The cost of the stolen mugs is estimated to be Rs 90,000. Railway sources said an equal sum had been spent on the steel chains, which were yanked off the wall clamps.

A senior railway official described the scale of the problem. "One day, 80 new mugs were installed in the Shridham Express, which travels between Jabalpur and New Delhi. The train returned to Jabalpur 36 hours later with only 20 mugs," he said.

"We learnt that all the mugs in the AC and sleeper coaches had been stolen."

"Or maybe some of them were taken away as souvenirs," he added as an afterthought, racking his brain to figure out why AC passengers would steal toilet mugs.

Railway officials said the thefts were first noticed during the cleaning of trains. "It's not that passengers are the sole culprits. There are some habitual offenders among insiders too," an official said.

Train thieves have long been known to target the blankets and the lights, while the stealing of streetlamps, manhole covers - even power poles in the countryside - are not uncommon.

Yadav, the chief PRO, said it was time the passengers themselves got proactive to prevent the disappearance of toilet mugs.

When railway minister Suresh Prabhu presented the railway budget last year, many Twitter users - presumably AC travellers familiar with the mugs in the toilets - had asked for longer chains for better manoeuvrability. Perhaps a better idea would be to carry toilet paper rolls during train journeys.

Ironically, the toilet mug, or lotah, became a part of Indian railway lore more than a century ago when the country's trains lacked loos. Toilets were introduced in trains only following a fervent appeal from one Okhil Chandra Sen to the Sahibganj divisional railway office in 1909.

The letter, on display at New Delhi's Rail Museum, makes for amusing reading.

"I am arrive by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with ' lotah' in one hand and 'dhoti' in the next when I am fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on platform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur station," it says.