Friday, August 14, 2015

Open letter to Mr. Suresh Prabhu, do you think you owe any explanation to agitated passengers?

Dear Mr. Suresh Prabhu,
I never imagined I have to write a open letter like this to anyone forget about writing to railway minister of India. Before starting my letter let me mention that I have highest regards for your knowledge and capabilities, I am also a great admirer of some of the work which you did as a minister in previous NDA government that is why I am not that happy to write this letter but I think I don't have any other option. 

Let me also tell you that till my last trip which was just yesterday I was a big fan and a staunch supporter of Indian railways. No one ever managed to convince me not to travel by train in spite of air travel becoming very common and affordable. I always preferred it as my mode of travel for long distance travel, I always enjoyed my train journey in spite of some inconvenience in booking the ticket because of heavily crowded and forever over booked Pune-Varanasi route. But all these things never discouraged me to travel by train even on very short visits to India where time is a very important factor. I always valued and looked forward to my train journeys as they are integral part of my childhood memories. But what no one ever managed to do all those years (almost four decades) your department managed to do it during just one journey. My last train journey was one of the most horrible customer service experience I ever had with any organization in world. First of all I don't think Indian railway believes in anything like customer service, even on inquiry window of Varanasi junction the concerned person was answering queries of passengers as if he was doing some kind of favor on them. I hope you are having a great time while enjoying your posting as Indian railways minister, I hope you understand that this post comes with many perks as well as many responsibilities. I hope you have good idea about how this whole organization works and how this system functions (if at all it exists). So with all this background now let me tell you about my horrible experience with the organization you are currently heading which in return forced me to write this letter.

I booked my return travel from Varanasi to Pune by Gyan ganga express (train No. 22132) for 12th August  it was scheduled to depart at 4.35 AM. On 8th August, just one day before my departure from Pune, people told me that it will get cancelled as the train which goes to Varanasi  from Pune (22131) and returns as Gyan ganga express is cancelled. This was based on some local news paper report, we couldn't confirm this from official web site or help line number. I still wonder what was the source of that news paper or was it a mere guess? But I thought that if it is that obvious then railway website and help line should clearly mention this, but both didn't have any information about cancellation of either trains. But as everyone sounded so confident I booked another ticket for train to Mumbai leaving on 13th (train number 12168) as there was no other train for Pune. I did this not to derail my travel plans just in case if their prediction turns out to be better and more accurate than railway website and helpline. I reached Varanasi on 9th August, on 10th night my brother informed me that my train on 12th is cancelled officially as per railway website, so it seems they all were right and guessed it much before railway department. I was amazed that as a passenger travelling by that train I didn't receive any official communication about this cancellation. I can't believe that in this era when cell phone has become such a common commodity in India, Indian railway doesn't have a SMS (text) information system for its customers where they can inform their passengers about delays and cancellations well in advance to avoid any inconvenience to them. I also wonder why online update system is so slow to update any relevant information. It fails to deliver specially when there is some sort of confusion and people try to get relevant information from website as it is the official source. I immediately booked another ticket (third one) via 'tatkal' for train 12168 departing on 12th August which was scheduled to reach Lokmanya Tilak terminus on 13th August at 12.25 PM. So just to make sure I had three confirmed tickets in my hand, but with no guarantee that any one of them will take me to Pune or Mumbai on 13th. Don't you think this uncertainty should be a matter of great concern for person in charge of such a old and great institution like Indian railways? Don't you think as a passenger who pay full fair and rely on scheduled timetable of trains for their travel and other plans your system should try to be more accurate and should be more considerate towards their inconvenience?

But the story doesn't end here, on 12th morning I came to know that train 12168 scheduled to depart on 13th got cancelled, so I was left with only one option of train 12168 on 12th which was not yet cancelled. Many people advised me to take flight as they were not sure that even this one will run on time but I was adamant that reaching Pune 6-7 hrs after my earlier plan is not a big deal if it allows me to experience train journey with my daughter and mom. But it seems I was living in fools paradise by believing your website and help line which kept on informing me till 11th night that train is scheduled to depart on right time (10.25 AM). My village is almost 2 hrs journey from Varanasi, so we started our preparations early in the morning on 12th, we planned to leave around 8.00 AM to reach Varanasi ~10.00 AM. By chance my cousin who happened to be the only person carrying smart phone with internet pack checked current status of our train and found that it was delayed by 6 hrs and 35 minutes and was rescheduled to leave on 5 PM. Then also I thought not too bad, it happens as I knew that trains are getting rescheduled because of recent accident near Harda in MP. So based on that information we left our village around 2.30 PM, on my way I called railway help line number 139 to inquire about train status and they informed me that it is scheduled to depart at 5.00 PM from platform 9. We reached Varanasi at 4.30 PM, electronic board on station was showing scheduled departure time at 5 PM, I met some passengers waiting there since 9 AM as they didn't have any smart phone or when they checked web site told them that train was scheduled to depart on right time. The inquiry counter was flooded with people asking about that same train as people were running out of patience as they were getting different information from different sources. Surprisingly the guy at the counter instead of being more understanding and sympathetic towards agitated passengers started loosing his patience with each person asking about the same train. His replies started sounding more angry and arrogant,  finally he declared that train will only depart once train 12167 arrives at Varanasi and he didn't have any idea when it will arrive. Can you believe this? Do you expect and justify this kind of response from official counter of railway department? After this announcement he literally ordered everyone standing in line to inquire about that train along with others waiting for the same train to leave the place and come back around 10.00 PM to get any further information. He even called police personnel to disperse the crowd around the inquiry window. Amazingly the screen on station was still showing departure time for the train at 5.00 PM!!!!

The nightmare doesn't end here, I saw many people in that heat and humidity with kids as young as 2 or 3 months sitting there helplessly as they had nowhere to go and had no option but to wait indefinitely for that train. I checked waiting rooms for passengers, they were already over crowded with people sitting on floor. I really felt bad for all those people who blamed their fate for this situation and told me not to be so surprised and shocked as this is how this system works. Many also told me that there won't be any use of registering any complain as no one will bother to pay any attention towards it. Mr. Prabhu, can you believe what people think about your department and how low expectations they have from it? If this doesn't concern and worry you I wonder what will? At 10.00 PM on line update was that it will leave at 11 PM, I came back to Varanasi station at 10.45 to find that finally train 12167 has arrived and 12168 will depart at 11.55 PM. Then at 11.55 PM they announced it will depart at 12.30 AM (on 13th August), and after 12.30 AM they stopped making any further announcements about that train. I was wondering that even after train being arrived at Varanasi station how come these people can't tell passengers the exact time of its departure? What kind of system is this which changes its previous announcements at last minute with zero regard for its passengers convenience? Why these people have no respect and concern towards their passengers many of whom are waiting since morning? No one around me had any answers for all these questions, I hope that at least you have some courtesy and courage to explain all this. Finally train arrived at 1.00 AM, and departed around 1.30 AM, almost 15 hrs after its scheduled departure which was changed I don't know how many times.

Journey was good, I enjoyed it in spite of shocking incident of theft of cell phone of my mom. The passenger who came to our compartment after ticket checker (TC) send him when he found out that one passenger didn't show up while scanning the compartment. This person stole her phone in broad day light, that too from compartment which had attendants and was supposed to be safe and secure. He took advantage of situation of already tired and dejected passengers who were trying to catch up with their lost sleep. I tried to register the complain with TC who indirectly blamed me for this incident and told me to call 138, who then told to call 182. Finally they registered my complaint and promptly sent police on next station to inquire about it and register the FIR. It was a pleasant surprise to see that at least something was working and I give them full credit for their prompt response. Police officer told me not to worry as they will surely find the phone and return it to my mom, I don't think they will but it was so nice of him to be sympathetic towards our inconvenience and it was great feeling to hear some comforting words from someone who at least didn't blame me for being in this situation and I really thank him for that.

Now, Mr. Prabhu if you get chance to read this, what you have to say about all this? Do you think you owe any explanation or at least a sincere apology to all those passengers who went through so much inconvenience and trauma? Do you think that all those passengers should be compensated for all this inconvenience? Based on many people's suggestion I don't expect any answers but still I am trying to reach you. Why this department is so unconcerned about needs and convenience about millions of passengers who rely on it for their daily travel needs? Why there is no concept of customer care, specially among people who are supposed to deal with customers directly? Why people at inquiry window loose patience so fast, when it is their job to answer all queries no matter how many times people ask? Why system is so slow and pathetically inaccurate to update status of their own trains? Why TCs fail to do their job properly and blame passengers? (for our entire journey no one came to check our tickets, they only scanned compartment to check for vacant seats). I hope you have answers to at least some of these questions and bother to respond. If not me I think millions of passengers deserve your attention and apology, they also need some sort of promise from you that such things will stop happening or will be rare events rather than a norm.

Please look into this matter seriously before someday passengers react violently against this mismanagement. I hope this letter sounds a wake up alarm in your ears rather than thinking it as a attack or criticism by some frustrated passenger.

Eagerly waiting for your reply,
One agitated passenger.

1 comment:

  1. Smart cities,smart infrastructure..... and a "smarting pain as it hurts when you see things the way they are at the ground level with personal experience...