THE INDIAN Railways may stop providing blankets, pillows, hand towels and sheets in its air-conditioned coaches when it resumes full services, even after the pandemic ends.
While a formal decision is yet to be taken, the issue is learnt to have been discussed at a high-level video conference between Railway Board top brass and zonal and divisional officials earlier this week.
Three top officials who attended the video conference confirmed this to The Indian Express. “We are moving in that direction,” said a senior Railway Ministry official.
Sources said a committee is being formed to decide what to do with the mechanised mega laundries, set up to wash the linen under the Build-Operate-Own-Transfer model across India.
The Railways is estimated to spend Rs 40-50 for washing each linen set. According to estimates, there are about 18 lakh linen sets in circulation at present. A blanket remains in service for about 48 months, and is washed once a month. At present no new linen items are being procured, sources said.
Besides the cost involved, linen sets, especially blankets and sheets, have been a regular cause of passenger complaints and even Parliament questions.
Moreover, in the last few months, about 20 railway divisions have given contracts to private vendors for selling disposable blankets, pillows and sheets at stations at cheap prices.
Danapur Division of East Central Railway, for instance, has five such vendors, who together pay the Railways about Rs 30 lakh per year. About 50 such vendors have set up shop in railway stations across India.
Officials said that instead of recurring expenditure, this option turns linen management into an opportunity to earn non-fare revenue. And with modern temperature control settings in AC coaches, the need for blankets could be eliminated, said an official.
A Railway Ministry spokesman, however, said no decision has been taken yet. “Currently, we are not giving linen because of the Covid situation. When the situation becomes normal, all these decisions will be up for review. It is hypothetical to say anything else at this point,” he said.
The Railways is also not serving cooked food on trains, opting for packed and ready-to-eat food items instead. Sources said this practice too may remain “for some time” even after normal train operations resume. Some railway divisions are learnt to have started discussions with packaged food manufacturers and suppliers on the possibility of long-term contracts.
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