How passengers are taken for a ride by the Indian Railways 

I travel a lot by train in India. I have been using Shatabdi Express trains in two different parts of India lately. On the Southern Railway route, it has been the Chennai-Bengaluru and Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysuru Shatabdi trains, all of which provide a ‘No Food’ option in addition to the usual veg or non-veg. As per observations and chats with the passengers and crew, about 30% of the passengers on these trains opt for the “No Food” option. The savings are substantial, Rs200-250 plus GST, and for half that amount of money you can pick up much better meals and beverages on the platform at Chennai, Bengaluru and Mysuru.

On the Northern Railway route, it has been the New Delhi-Ludhiana and the New-Delhi Amritsar Shatabdi trains, which do not provide the “No Food” option. As a passenger you are forced to opt for veg or non-veg, wherein breakfast is tolerable but dinner is most certainly inedible, and not worth the Rs200-250 one pays, plus the GST charged. It is estimated that 30% or more of the passengers return the food untouched.
The quality of hygiene and food handling is suspect on both trains, though marginally better in the South, and as for the oil content – it is rumoured that the excess oil used is as a standby for the generators roaring away at either end of the trains. I have enough photographs of water being stored in toilets and food being stored next to garbage bins; in addition, plastic crockery and cutlery used is given a ‘dry-cleaning’ using a dirty rag within the line of sight of the passengers.
All this and more, generate among the​ catering and​ serving staff nothing but contempt for the passengers being force-fed this swill on the Northern Railway routes.​Public grievances result in catering staff, who get the phone numbers presumably from pliant railway officials, calling up and threatening this writer. Life goes on.​ Meanwhile, Indian Railways continues to collect compulsory food charges, despite multiple announcements about making food optional on these trains.
One big reason is that the corruption in catering services keeps the senior babus well supplied with good food. I have also seen what they are served in their homes as well as in their saloons and during travel.​
Game of Free Insurance?
‘Free’ insurance is provided to all who book Indian Railway tickets online through IRCTC. This costs the Indian Railways 92 paise per passenger, of which there are millions who book online over IRCTC every day: one estimate puts it at about 2 million tickets booked online every day. That’s about Rs1.8 lakh paid as insurance premium on our behalf to a variety of private insurance companies every day, about making it about Rs75 crore per annum. The payout is supposed to be Rs10 lakh per death, if claimed, if nominee details are filled out. Otherwise, there is no payout unless legal heir is established. Assuming a figure of about 300-500 insurance liable deaths per annum ​ on Indian Railways, that is about Rs5 crore at best.
​And please be aware of how difficult it will be to collect. If at all.​
The rest, about Rs70 crore, is money for jam. But even that is not enough!
The trick here is to get the passenger to place the nominee details on the policy. IRCTC and therefore the Indian Railways have an interesting trick here – instead of collecting the nominee details at the time of the passenger making the booking, ​they ​wait till a ​working ​day later, after the​ charting is done and the waiting list, seat or berth number is allotted,​ not just is confirmed, to ​provide the contact details of the passengers, to the insurance companies, who then wait one more working day to send an email to the passenger to ​collect the nominee details. By this time, unless the journey is more than ​two days​-and-a-half, the journey is over and providing or collecting nominee details is of no use to anybody.
Assuming about 20% of the travellers are on waiting lists that get confirmed (tatkal, quotas and more make up the rest), it means that 20% of passengers get the message to add a nominee AFTER the journey is over. God help them (or their nominees) ​if they suffer an accident in this period.
​Where does that collected money go? That is also why no government insurance company is in the list, by the way! The joys of privatisation of insurance!​
No safe exit at Delhi station
Bridges collapsing over railways lines has been covered in some detail lately. The truth is that railway passengers are like sacrificial lambs being thrown to the wolves. A trip to the New Delhi railway station teaches you so much more about the attitude that the Indian Railways has towards it passengers than what any amount of expensive consultants or foreign trips or grandiose plans can.
It is fascinating to see the multiple reasons why and how life is made difficult for pedestrians and commuters at New Delhi railway station.
# The “local trains”, or EMUs as they are known here, are brought on to island platforms in the middle instead of the more easily accessible Platform 16 and 1 at the edges and closer to the Metro and the buses respectively.
# The walking path from Gate No 1 and 5 of New Delhi Metro Rail underground station to the escalators and entry to the New Delhi railway station is heavily barricaded by Delhi Police as well as broken pavement, making it impossible to walk safely.
# Exits from all the escalators and stairs are heavily blocked by auto-rickshaws and black-yellow cabs whose drivers are apparently exempted from any of the NO PARKING rules applied to private cars and cabs.
# The embark and disembark points for buses are about a kilometre away from the platforms on each side, Ajmeri Gate and Pahargunj, and as expected, soaked in filth and human waste.
# Of course, the innermost lanes on both sides are “reserved” for the minor VIPs; the bigger VVIPs and VIPs and Railway people have their own “State Entry Road”. Which is where, by the way, at one time there used to be a cycle parking. Now there is no cycle parking.
# On the Ajmeri Gate side, the entry for drop-and-go has been barricaded shut, so people are forced to enter the pay-and-park area-which is where they end up if not careful about using the other entry lane meant for premium parking which is even costlier!
It really does not matter to people which formation is in power, nor are they bothered about whether Indian Railways is under the Ministry of Railways that is stuck in a colonial mind set. Delhi Metro, which gives up all responsibility at its turnstiles, Delhi Government (selected) which appears to be at war with Delhi Government (elected), Municipal Corp of Delhi (MCD) or New Delhi Municipal Corp (NDMC), which appear to be busy setting up their games or any of the hundreds of sponsored touts hanging around.
It is just that the same people spot that other railway station access and exit points in other parts of India appear to have improved while the Delhi options have come crashing down.
The fault lines of India are in Delhi. Too much mis-governance, too little progress, too many “authorities” cancelling each other out.
And it is all visible in the way we run our railway stations in Delhi, for, 99% of the people who use the facilities, only to be told how hundreds of crores of rupees have been wasted again.
(Veeresh Malik is an activist from Delhi, who continues to explore several things in life.)

Plastic Ban: What you can do and what you can’t in Maharashtra!

The plastic ban enforced by the Maharashtra Government from 23 June 2018 has been lauded for its positive step towards environment. However, the ban has created chaos and confusion among citizens who are clueless as to what is banned and what is allowed as also the dilutions through several notifications. Add to this the steep fine of Rs5,000 levied for carrying a plastic a bag that has always helped in the monsoons and there is complete confusion.

What is allowed?
  • Plastic bags or plastic used for packaging of medicines also with plastic used for medical equipment’s and medical products.




  • Plastic bags for storing food grains or as packaging material for biscuits, chips and similar food items



  • Food grade virgin plastic bags with a thickness of not less than 50 micron used for packaging of milk with specified buyback price with manufactures name. Manufacturer is mandated to collect such bags from the customer for recycling



  • Cartons or cardboard’s consisting of single layer plastic.


  • Recyclable plastic utilised in stationery products used for educational and office use. Plastic Pens are also allowed



  • Tarpaulin sheets, pens, plastic wrapper of chocolates and chips.




  • Household food storage containers,  like drinking bottles and tiffin boxes.


  • Bags made of jute and paper materials that are environmentally sustainable.


(Photo Credit: Mo Riza/

  • Compostable plastic bags or material used for plant nurseries, horticulture, agriculture, and handling of solid waste.



  • Plastic and plastic bags for export purpose allowed only in the Special Economic Zone and export oriented units to wrap the material at the manufacturing stage or is an integral part of manufacturing.
  • For pharma industry, use of thermocol boxes for storing medicines and plastic item for saline bottles and medicines.


What is not allowed?
  • All types of plastic bags (with or without handle) and garbage bags.


  • Thermocol (polystyrene) and thermocol made out of plastic which are one-time single use disposable plastic items like dish, cups, plates, glasses, fork, bowl, container, disposable dish or bowl.



  • Non-woven polypropylene bags, cups and pouches to store liquid.
  • Plastic containers used in Hotels for packaging food materials as well as straws.



  • Compostable plastic bag



  • PET / PETE bottles as well as plastic water pouches having liquid holding capacity less than 200ml (banned in Maharashtra).



  • Plastic pouches used for storing liquid
  • Use of plastic or thermocol for decorative purpose
FAQs on Plastic Ban
Here are frequently asked questions by citizens on plastic ban and the answers…
What is Plastic?
“Plastic” means material; which contains as an essential ingredient a high polymer such as polyethylene terephthalate, high density polyethylene, vinyl, low  density  polyethylene,  polypropylene,  polystyrene  resins,  poly  styrene (thermocol),  non-oven  polypropylene,  multi  layered  coextruder,  poly propylene, poly terephthalate, poly amides, poly methyl methacrylate, plastic micro beads, etc.
2) Which plastic bags are banned?
“Plastic bags” means bags made from plastic material, used for the purpose of
carrying or dispensing commodities.
  • With or without handle.
  • non-woven polypropylene.
  • Constitute or form an integral part of the packaging at manufacturing stage or is an integral part of manufacturing.
3) What are PET and PETE bottles? Are cold drinks/ beverage bottles exempted?
The bottles made up of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyethylene terephthalate esters (PETE) used for packaging or storing liquid or semi liquid food, including water. The use, purchase, sale, storage and manufacture of PET and PETE bottles made of “high quality food grade virgin Bisphenol-A free material and printed on it with a “predefined buy back price” shall be allowed. However, under the “Extended Producers and sellers/trader’s Responsibility (EPR)” it is mandated to setup “collection centers” for recycling plastic waste generated. The implementation deadline to setup such centers is three months since its notification issued on 23 March 2018.
PET and PETE bottles having liquid holding capacity of more than 200 ml are exempted from the plastic ban.
4) What is the Buy Back Mechanism?
  • The PET / PETE bottles used for drinking water, having liquid holding capacity of one litre or more, shall have deposit and refund price of Re1 or the buyback price as decided by the manufacturer printed on it.
  • Drinking water PET / PETE Bottles, having liquid holding capacity of less than one litre but more than 200ml shall be printed on it and the deposit and refund of Rs2 or the buyback price as decided by the manufacturer.
5) Where are the collection centers to be located?
The collection centers for the buyback plastic PET and PETE bottles are to be situated at ‘strategic places’ including malls, multiplexes, hotels, shops, tourists places, beaches, forts, and public spaces.
6) Who is responsible for the implementation of the collection centers?
It is the responsibility of the PET Bottle industries to ensure that these bottles are collected from retailers at depository and refund rate or buyback rate and are recycled.
7) What is single use disposable material?
Dish, cups, plates, glasses, fork, bowl, container, disposable dish/ bowl used for packaging food in hotels, spoon, straw, non-woven polypropylene bags, cups/ pouches to store liquid, packaging with  plastic to wrap or store the products, packaging of food items and food grain material.
(Image cited in United Nations environment report on Single use plastic)
8) To whom is the ban on plastic is applicable to?
According to the Government GR on 23 March 2018, the ban on plastic is  applicable to every person, body of person, government and non-government  organization, educational institution, sport complex, clubs, cinema halls and theaters, marriage or celebration halls, industrial units, commercial institutions, offices, pilgrimage organisers, pilgrimages and religious places, hotels, dhabas, shopkeepers, malls, vendors or sellers, traders, manufacturers, caterer, wholesalers, retailers, stockiest, businessmen, hawkers, salesmen, transporters, market, producers, stalls, tourist places, forest and reserved forest, eco-sensitive areas, all sea beaches, all public places, bus stands, railway stations in Maharashtra.
9) What are the fines for carrying plastic bags?
A first time violator will be fined Rs5,000 and Rs10,000 for the second-time violator. A third-time violator will be charged with Rs25,000 and may also face imprisonment for a period of three months.
Amendments to the plastic Ban:
E-Commerce Companies:
The latest GR dated on 30 June 2018, exempted e-commerce companies to use plastic packaging materials used for products sold in the State of Maharashtra with a contingency to “they shall develop environmental-friendly alternative for packaging of materials within three months. They shall create a mechanism for the collection of the plastic packaging material used during three months and ensure the recycling and final disposal”.
Materials used for wrapping:
As stated earlier, the government have exempted thermocol used for wrapping material at the manufacturing stage or is an integral part of manufacturing shall
Comply with few conditions laid down. They are
  • The packaging material shall be more than 50 micron thickness.
  • The packaging material shall be made up of minimum 20% recyclable plastic material(except for food packaging).
  • The manufacturer’s details, type of plastic with code number and buy-back price shall be printed on the packaging material (except for export purpose).
The government of Maharashtra officials stated that strict action would be initiated against the violating establishments, however they denied that the plastic ban motive is not to harass citizens and they are working towards alternative options to plastic with various women NGO’s.