The Indian Railways, which has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons of late, is back in the news again. And no, this has nothing to do with the recent spate of derailments, or repeated complaints about the quality of food and service. In an attempt to end the VIP culture prevailing in the Railways, the ministry recently scrapped the more than three-decade old practice of senior staffers, including general managers, genuflecting when the Railway Board chairman and other board members arrive for their zonal visits.
When Ashwani Lohani assumed charge as Railway Board Chairman in August, he declared that he would abolish the practice of giving bouquets, gifts and the overall culture of ‘bootlicking,’ saying no official would accept bouquets and gifts henceforth.
As a follow-up, in an order dated September 28, the ministry summarily withdrew the 1981 instructions which mandated such obsequious behaviour at airports and railway stations during the visit of board bosses. Earlier, new Railway Minister Piyush Goyal urged senior officials—including members of the Railway Board, general and divisional managers—to renounce executive and first class privileges and start travelling in Sleeper and AC III-tier classes instead.
He also asked all Railway staff—estimated at some 30,000, mostly trackmen—who doubled as domestic help at the residences of senior officials to quit and resume their regular duties immediately. Reports says that some 7,000 trackmen have already complied, while the rest are expected to do so soon.
But old habits, as they say, die hard. When Lohani arrived at the Mumbai airport on September 30 morning, he found some 20 high-ranking railway officials waiting to receive him, instead of handling the crisis after the stampede on the foot overbridge (FOB) between Parel and Elphinstone Road station a day earlier, in which 23 people died. A furious Lohani has apparently pledged action against them. One can only wish him luck.