This post is about my observations and experiences of traveling in an unreserved compartment on an Indian Railways train. This compartment is popularly known as ‘General compartment’. This is the compartment shared by some sections of the lower middle class, lower class and some ‘waitlisted’ upper class passengers. Conditions in this coach are pathetic and reinforces the inequalities existing in our shining India.
Quality of Service – This is the parameter that is conspicuous by its absence in most of our public sectors today. Subsidizing something for the benefit of the downtrodden or the public at large does not mean that you are doing a favour to these sections of the society. They are entitled to the same quality of service that a passenger paying an appropriate market driven fare enjoys. This is when the goals of subsidy are met. Otherwise, it is no longer a subsidy. It is a pathetic service for a pathetic fare.
In the non AC reserved coaches, 3 passengers sit on each of the seats face to face and 2 passengers on the side seats making a total of 8 passengers. In the same amount of area, 10 passengers are supposed to be accommodated in the unreserved compartment. The reserved coaches also have sleeper berths where as the unreserved coaches do not. So, the only assumptions that Indian Railways seems to be making that I can think about is that people traveling in these compartments are slim, malnourished or ‘petite’ and that they are ‘nocturnal’ (do not need sleep). The cushion thickness of the seats for these compartments is 50% less compared to the reserved coaches. Even, this luxury was provided only during the tenure of Lalu Prasad Yadav as railway minister. (Aur 50% cushion thickness dhoge, tho tumhare baap ka kya jaayega).
Well, this was about the physical conditions of the compartment. Now, coming to the enforcement part of it, I think there is no such thing as enforcement of rules because the ticket collector rarely enters this coach. He never entered during my entire journey of 600 kms and I heard from one of the ‘UR frequent traveler’ that TCs never take the risk of entering UR coach. Another interesting fact is that Indian Railways sells more tickets on these compartments than the capacity of the coaches. Thus, even the 10 versus 8 passenger difference that I spoke about is apparent. You can just sit anywhere you like. In the compartment that I traveled, people even occupied the floor of the train, not to mention the luggage racks. One of the funniest incident that makes me laugh again and again is a request made by a man in his 50s or 60s as I was sitting comfortably on a side seat. He asked me: ‘Can I travel with just one of my _ss on your seat?’ 🙂 🙂 Well, if you are wondering what my answer was. I humbly told him that I have to travel for 9 hours and it would be difficult for me to share my seat. Well, I like the simplicity of his language though ‘civilized’ people may label it as blunt. As John Nash would have said in ‘A Beautiful Mind‘, “I like to expedite the information flow by being direct”.
Of course, there are moments of fun in these compartments. There is also a lot you can learn. How can the ministers, members of the railway board, secretaries of railway ministry be untouched by all this? This is something I do not understand as of today. I only pray to God to give me the strength and power to change these things around me.