A NEW Railway policy decision to get train cleaners to also distribute blankets and bedsheets to passengers has got the Congress riled up in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh.
Linen set, which includes a blanket, pillow, bed sheets and hand towels, given to each passenger in the AC classes, is currently distributed by a dedicated coach attendant. The cleaning job is done by the Onboard Housekeeping Service (OBHS) staff, who clean the coach during the journey and the toilets.
According to the new Standard Bid Document issued by the Railway Board to streamline the OBHS on trains, the person deputed to provide the service shall be in charge of washing, cleaning and disinfection of areas, including pest control, collection and disposal of garbage from entire train, maintenance of trash-cans, operating lost and found in the train, maintenance and complaint redressal, and distribution of linen to passengers.
The Congress in Jabalpur Division of West Central Railway has started a campaign against what they call a “unhygienic” practice of letting toilet cleaners handle linens. “This is an unhygienic practice that puts the passenger at possible health risks. How can the person cleaning train toilets also handle clean linen? We are opposing it,” said Sauravnati Sharma, secretary, Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee.
This is because on July 15, the Jabalpur Division gave away a new contract worth Rs 13.94 crore for this combined activity on 15 trains, following the new contract policy. Other zones are also preparing similar contracts.
The Congress in Jabalpur has held demonstrations before the Divisional authorities against this. It has also circulated pamphlets and posters in trains.
Explaining the rationale behind the move, Divisional Railway Manager Manoj Singh said it was to simplify the service process. “Staff will be given proper gear and material so that they keep themselves clean. There is nothing wrong in one person doing the two jobs. Also, in this day and age, why should we expect that the job of cleaning should be reserved for only one section of people?” he said. The staff distributing linen in trains have also expressed reservations about taking up cleaning activities. “So far we have had no complaints from passengers,” he added.
Currently, in Indian Railways, the job of washing the linen, distributing them on trains and on-board housekeeping service are usually carried out by three different contractors. The Railway Board policy move is aimed to get a single contractor to do the three jobs to ease the process of fixing accountability, said a senior Railway ministry official. However, heads of some divisions said they would approach the ministry to take a relook at this particular provision, “to avoid backlash”.