Outsourcing the manufacture of bed linen for railway passengers to inmates of the Yerwada prison should not be rushed into, warns V Gangadhar. Do we want to add to the existing hazards of modern rail travel?
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I don’t know the exact date when Indian Railways introduced the Sleeper Coach (III-tier and II-tier) in its network. They were an instant hit and berths sold like hot cakes, not like the cakes sold by the Railway Caterers! The queues for these berths were endless and the demand for the ‘Sleeper berths’ continued unabated and so much that a first class sleeper coach was introduced. I never could afford a Class I Sleeper, but came to depend in ‘Third Class’ sleeper on my frequent travels to the South.
But the Sleeper Coach developed its own hazards. Intruders, pickpockets and gate crashers in large numbers and lack of ticket checkers were major problem. The average patron of this class was often the victim of train thieves. Short distance passengers for whom this luxury was not intended sneaked into the coach at night and made away with attaché cases. Laptops and other portable goods, while their owners snored. Since rail passengers travelled at their own risk and cost they were helpless and rued their losses even as they filed complaints with the authorities. The class III Sleeper coach remained Class III as far as thefts and minor crime was concerned.
I seldom paid much attention to this crime situation was concerned because I travelled light; a small attaché case, an overnight bag and a water bottle which always escaped the attention of small time thieves. But I kept my eyes and ears open for news from III Class Sleeper coach crime. Nothing like the theft of a bagful of diamonds as in Agatha Christie’s ‘Mystery of the Blue Train’. My co-passengers appeared to travel only with South Indian snacks, but never with bags containing diamonds and my Sleeper coach never figured in any dramatic robbery. Yet newspaper headlines like “WR to source bed linen from Yerawada prison” caught my attention. Oh, finally it had happened!
From October 2, the Mumbai-Jaipur Superfast Express will provide 1600 bed linen like pillow cases and sheets to its passengers. Currently two bed sheets are provided per passenger, one to cover one self and the other for the pillow. As against the current cost of Rs 169 per bed sheet, the prison sheet would cost Rs 161. If found successful, the scheme would be extended to cover other trains like Rajdani, Shatabdi and so on. But there are some hazards which had to be noted by Railway psychiatrists. Will the Yerawada prison linen leave an impact on sleeping passengers and possibly awaken their criminal tendencies?
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Experiments conducted by Railway psychiatrists however discovered that 3 per cent of the passengers in the compartment while sleeping under Yerawada made blankets displayed a tendency to take away with them the blankets. And among the guilty nimble fingered passengers 10 per cent were politicians and even state ministers. Railway authorities are now working on a plan to activate the anti-bed linen theft tendencies and once this is sorted out the plan will be put into operation.
(V Gangadhar writes, satire, a special form of humour. Incidents and anecdotes in his coloumn are purely imaginary)