Rail Budget might revamp coolie system with new name, trolleys and ads

Sources said Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu may elaborate on this in the Rail Budget, scheduled for later this month.

Written by Avishek G Dastidar | New Delhi | Updated: February 11, 2016 8:46 am
indian railway, railway budget, porters at railway station, kooli at railway station, suresh prabhu, coolie Porters (coolie) takes time off to watch the proceedings of the Railway Budget on a screen at the New Delhi railway station on thursday. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Porters at railway stations who precariously balance luggage on their head will soon be a thing of the past, with the Railways devising a plan to provide them with trolleys — like the ones available at airports — as well as a fancier designation, ‘luggage assistants’.

The bright, red uniform with a brass armband that porters — or coolies as they are popularly known — wear may also give way to clothing that carries advertisements so Railways can earn extra revenue, officials said.

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Sources said Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu may elaborate on this in the Rail Budget, scheduled for later this month. “The intent is to leave no stone unturned to increase non-fare revenue,” said a senior Railway Board official.

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The idea, sources said, has already been run past Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who told Railways to “learn from cricket, which has advertisements even on stumps”.

The Railways also wants to do away with the term “coolie”, which many see as a throwback to colonial times.

The ambitious plan to “monetise” porters across India has the potential to open up a revenue stream that has so far remained unexplored. Delhi alone has around 2,176 licensed porters at four major railway stations.

While discussing the finer points of the plan, officials pointed out that not all stations in India will be compatible with hundreds of trolleys moving around on platforms. They also discussed customer complaints of porters regularly “over-charging”.

Accordingly, the plan is being devised in a way that rolls out the process in a phased manner, along with tie-ups with advertisers. The pilot could be rolled out at New Delhi railway station, officials said.

Since most porters are part of unions, taking unions on board will be essential if things are to go smoothly, officials said.

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