The Indian Railways and the civil aviation sector, which constitute the backbone of India’s transportation network, have been heavily criticised in the recent past for making decisions that have later misfired.
However, it is of utmost importance to realise what exactly has gone wrong. It’s equally important to know what needs to be done to deal with the situation.
The Indian Railways is still the lifeline for millions of Indians, even though the it has been heavily criticised for the lack of cleanliness in the trains (especially the dirty toilets), the nearly-unpalatable food served and the inordinate delays.
However, this seems to be changing now due to multiple reasons. On the one hand, it is facing stiff competition from the civil aviation sector. On the other hand, due to the flexi fare system which was introduced for premium trains in 2016, train fares on many routes are more than flight fares for the same route. For instance, an AC 2-Tier ticket on the Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani Express currently costs around ₹2900, whereas an AC 1-Tier ticket on the same train costs around ₹4800. On the other hand, a flight ticket for the same journey is available for ₹3000 (roughly) or even lesser.
The concept of Premium Tatkal (where ticket prices shoot up exponentially with the decrease in the number of available seats) and the introduction of Suvidha Express trains (in which both non-AC and AC ticket prices are determined by the dynamic pricing system) have also come under heavy criticism, from many sections of the society.
As a result of these initiatives, trains which used to jam-packed all the year round, now run empty, even during the vacation seasons. Not surprisingly, the Indian Railways are still incurring heavy losses. This comes in addition to deteriorating standards of services provided and inordinate delays.
The much-hyped new trains like Gatimaan Express and Humsafar Express have also had low occupancy, due to high-priced tickets.
No doubt certain initiatives like e-catering and tweet messaging (for problem-redressal) have been quite successful. However, much still needs to be addressed. This is something which has been accepted by the Railways. To revive the Indian Railways, changes indeed need to be made to the current system.
On the other hand, the public should also be held accountable for not showing due respect to national property. For example, the newly-introduced Tejas Express, equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructure, was vandalised just a day after its debut journey.
Now, let’s talk about the innovative and ambitious idea of the government – the Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN) scheme. The scheme mainly aims to ensure regional connectivity, by providing cheap and affordable tickets. Under the scheme, 50% of the available tickets on a flight can be booked. A cap of ₹2500 has been put for a one-hour journey or for a journey of up to 500 kilometres.
However, what’s ironical here is that the scheme can prove to be quite costly in certain cases. For instance, a Delhi-Mumbai flight ticket, if booked in advance, costs around ₹2500 – which is the same price as a Delhi-Shimla flight ticket under the UDAN scheme. So, does it really make a difference, given the distances travelled, respectively?
It is quite interesting to note that to promote and fund the UDAN scheme, the government proposed a levy on regular flight tickets, in January 2017. Despite this, the UDAN scheme is failing to generate sufficient interest, among the Indian masses.
Even though the plans of the government to improve the transportation sector may be quite laudable, they seem to have failed right from the grassroots – at the implementation, planning and structural levels.