Railways cheats passenger!


By bappaditya Paul
TRAVEL AGENTS DUPING PEOPLE with fake train tickets is nothing new but Indian Railways’ own booking counter cheating a passenger surely is.      The South Eastern Railway (SER) reservation counter at Old Koilaghat Building in Kolkata has allegedly cheated a passenger by cancelling his journey when the man still has the original ticket in possession.Indian Railways logoThis led to the passenger paying twice for the same journey from New Delhi to Kolkata. He also failed to attend an important event in Howrah that he was invited to.   On receiving a complaint from the passenger, SER’s chief commercial manager (CCM) has now ordered a probe into the matter asking for report within seven days.

According to Mr Fazlur Rahman, a resident of Belurmath in Howrah, he had booked two tickets from counter No. 12 at Old Koilaghat Building around 9 a.m. on 26 October.

Of them, one was for travel from Sealdah to New Delhi by Duronto Express on 6 November (PNR: 633-4903305); the second one was a return ticket from New Delhi to Howrah by Rajdhani Express on 10 November (PNR: 236-4061297).

“The return ticket status was RAC. But when I went to New Delhi railway station to board Rajdhani Express on 10 November, I could not find my name in the passenger chart. I went to the chief station manager (CSM) office and after enquiry they told me that my ticket was cancelled from the same reservation office on the day of booking itself,” said Mr Rahman, a teacher by profession. New Delhi Railway stationBoth the CSM office staff and Mr Rahman were left puzzled at the discovery because he still had the original train ticket with him. The Rajdhani Express in the meantime departed from New Delhi station and

Mr Rahman was left stranded. “I lodged a complaint with the CSM office and requested them to facilitate me a ticket in some other train departing the same night. They were very considerate and issued me a confirmed ticket on Sealdah Duronto Express. For this, I had to pay Rs 2,035, which is the fare for a 3AC ticket,” he said.

After returning to Kolkata, Mr Rahman tried to unravel the mystery but was unsuccessful. The 43-year-old teacher says that while booking his ticket on 26 October at Old Koilaghat, the reservation clerk had entered his name wrong which he spotted on the counter’s display board and had got the name corrected by approaching the chief reservation supervisor (CRS) although the clerk was averse to the idea.Old Koilaghat Building“I don’t know whether the official cancelled my ticket in anger over this.”
Those working at railway reservation counters say that to cancel a ticket a clerk is required to get a cancellation slip filled-in by the passenger and also the original ticket. The clerk retains these and the passenger is issued a cancellation ticket mentioning the refund amount etc.

“On rare occasions, when a clerk misplaces or forgets to retain an original ticket, the CRS of that reservation office is required to mention this in the daily closing statement that is sent to the headquarters. But it cannot happen that both the cancellation slip and the original ticket will go missing at the same time,” said a reservation officer.

The CCM of South Eastern Railway, Mr Suchitto Kumar Das, today ordered a probe into the matter after Mr Rahman lodged a complaint with him on 14 November. “I have asked the CCM (Passenger Services) to probe this within seven days. The truth will surely come out,” Mr Das said over the telephone.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 19 November 2014.)

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Maitree Express soon to run thrice a week


By bappaditya paul

The railway authorities of India and Bangladesh have decided to increase the frequency of Maitree Express that plies between Kolkata and Dhaka, by one more day a week. A formal announcement on this is soon expected from the Railway Board in New Delhi. Maitree Express in BangladeshMaitree Express, introduced on 14 April 2008, now runs twice a week from both directions. From Kolkata it runs on Tuesday and Saturday; from Dhaka it plies on Wednesday and Friday. The plan is to run it one more day a week ~ on Sunday from Kolkata and on Monday from Dhaka.

To discuss necessary preparations for the increase in frequency, the railway officials of Bangladesh and India today held a meeting at Sealdah in Kolkata. The Bangladesh Railway delegation was led by its divisional railway manager (DRM) for Paksey, Mr Musharaff Hussain; Indian side was headed by the Sealdah DRM, Ms Jaya Varma Sinha. The meeting was held in Sealdah DRM office. Maitree Express route“It was a co-ordination meeting at the DRM level and we discussed all issues including the frequency increase of Maitree Express. It has been decided in-principle to run the train on one more day but a date for this will be formally announced by the Railway Board in New Delhi,” Ms Sinha said.

She said that while on the operational side the railways of both the countries were in a position to augment the frequency right way, it might take some more time to happen, as it was an inter-ministerial matter involving Immigration, Customs and the Union Home Ministry.

Meanwhile, while the frequency increase waits to happen, beginning 12 November, Bangladesh Railway has augmented the number of coaches in Maitree Express from previous six to seven. Indian Railways had added one coach to its previous six-coach rake on 23 September.Dhaka stationThe move comes in the wake of a significant leap in passenger occupancy in Maitree Express. In 2013-14, the train had registered 68 per cent monthly occupancy from Kolkata; until September this fiscal year, the monthly occupancy stood at 85 per cent. From Dhaka, the train had registered 73 per cent monthly occupancy in 2013-14; until September this fiscal year, the monthly occupancy stood at 86 per cent.

Apart from Maitree Express that plies via the Gede border in Nadia district, three goods trains also ply between India and Bangladesh daily on an average. While two goods trains run via Gede; one goods train operate via the Petrapole border in North 24-Parganas district.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 14 November 2014.)

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Patients forced to buy surgicals, medincies at Bengal’s top dental college

By bappaditya paul

West Bengal’s top dental college ~ the R Ahmed Dental College and Hospital in Kolkata ~ is making patients buy surgical items and medicines from outside that are supposed to be provided for free. Dental CollegeBe it a disposable syringe to IOPA X-ray film, Gutta-Percha / Paper Points or painkillers, the state’s flagship dental college is making patients buy almost everything that are required to treat tooth ailments.

Interns and house staff, who mostly attend to patients in the outpatient department, maintain that they have no choice but to ask people buy surgical items and medicines from outside as these are scarcely supplied by the hospital authorities.

“Every patient is required to buy these items from outside; it is not that we make a distinction or do have a choice to do so. I am not privy whether the government has stopped supplying the items or the issue is something else,” said a final year intern, who is not being named as this reporter spoke to him as a patient. Be it the patients or the dentists at the hospital, nobody finds anything surprising in this. “This is the way things have been going on here for sometime now,” said a senior dentist.   Dental cartoonWorse, the one or two items such as Glass Ionomer Cement (a dental restorative material used for dental fillings), which the hospital offers on patients for free, often run out of stock for weeks altogether without anyone bothering at all. For example, the Endodontics wing of the hospital housed in room no 3A, has ran out of GI Cement since 6 November, making several patients return disappointed everyday.

The hospital superintendent Dr Rahul Samanta expressed “shock” when told that patients were being made to buy surgical items and medicines from outside. “Is it so? This should not be the case as IOPA X-ray films and syringes etc are always being supplied to the departments. I will look into the matter,” said the superintendent whose office chamber is housed just one floor below the OPD treatment rooms.   Dental patientAs regards non-availability of GI Cement, Dr Samanta maintained that there have been some hiccups in procurement of some items due to tender related issues. “The government has made e-tender mandatory for all procurements but since our staff are yet to be properly trained into this, we are continuing by extending the old manual tenders. Due to this, some hiccups in supply is taking place recently,” he said. “We have a purchase committee in place headed by a senior doctor. He should be in a position to explain further.”

When contacted, principal secretary of the state health department, Mr Malay Kumar De, said that there should not be dearth of any treatment items at R Ahmed Dental College as the government was providing it sufficient funds.

“These days, we do not supply anything centrally and rather the hospitals are allotted funds to procure medicine and other items according to their need. In fact to reduce time, a procurement price for each item is fixed by us centrally and there are also empaneled suppliers. If a hospital falls short of funds, they write to us and additional money is released very expeditiously,” Mr De said. “I will definitely probe why the dental college is not providing medical items to patients for free.”

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 13 November 2014.)


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Bengal govt sits on civic poll date


By bappaditya paul

West Bengal government is sitting over confirming a poll date for ten civic bodies in the state despite having agreed before the Calcutta High Court in September that the long pending elections would be held by 31 January 2015.

West Bengal State Election Commission office

West Bengal State Election Commission office

The State Election Commission (SEC) secretary Mr Osman Gani has since then written three letters to the municipal affairs department on the issue, the latest one sent last week, requesting it to confirm a poll date. But the state government has been unresponsive so far.

In its communiques, SEC has suggested that the election may be held on 18 January (Sunday), considering that in the first half of January people stay enmeshed in celebrations of new year, Makar*** Sankranti*** etc and in the later part the administration remains preoccupied with Republic Day celebrations. Though there is time for the government to formally announce a poll date, SEC needs to know about the date well in advance to make necessary preparations. Polling personnelThe ten civic bodies, elections to which are to be held by 31 January are ~ Gangarampur (South Dinajpur), Kaliagunj (Malda), Uluberia (Howrah), Egra (East Midnapore), Islampur (North Dinajpur), Mal (Jalpaiguri), Dankuni (Hooghly), Sainthia (Birbhum), Rajpur-Sonarpur (South 24-Parganas) and Haringhata (Nadia).

They are among 17 civic bodies in the state whose terms ended in July this year but the Mamata Banerjee government declined to hold the election in time citing summer and monsoon woes. Then on 26 May, the state Cabinet announced the decision to merge / upgrade seven of these 17 civic bodies into municipal corporations.

Ms Mira Pande

Ms Mira Pande

Peeved at the government’s delaying tactics, then State Election Commissioner Ms Mira Pande moved to the Calcutta High Court in June, seeking intervention. But she could not push the litigation to a conclusion as her term ended on 21 July.

The new poll commissioner Mr Sushanta Ranjan Upadhaya, the first ever West Bengal Civil Service officer to adorn the post, took a conciliatory approach and suggested holding elections to ten civic bodies leaving out the seven municipalities that were to be merged / upgraded into corporations. Subsequently, in consultation with the state government, SEC told the High Court on 10 September that polls to the ten civic bodies would be held by 31 January. The state government also told the Court that it was in agreement with SEC’s proposal.

Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay

Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay

“We are now waiting for the government to covey us the poll date. The statutory requirement is 35-40 day gap between the notification of election and the poll day,” the poll commissioner Mr Upadhaya said over the phone. He said that since 10 September, the Commission has not heard anything from the government on the issue.

This is even as the delay in election is causing immense difficulty, especially to the poor, in getting benefits that they are entitled to. The government has appointed administrators to run the civic bodies whose terms have expired but lack of coordination between government institutions has rendered the arrangement futile. Mamata Banerjee“On 17 October, I went for treatment at the R Ahmed Dental College in Moulali and being a BPL category person, I approached the authorities there for waiver of treatment cost. I presented them a certificate issued by the Executive Officer of Rajpur-Sonarpur Municipality but they said I must bring a certificate issued by the chairperson,” said Mrs Alima Bibi. Rajpur-Sonarpur is one of the 17 civic bodies whose terms ended in July and hence it now neither has an elected body nor a chairperson.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This is an elaborate version of a news report that first appeared in The Statesman on 7 November 2014.)


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Redundancy link to avert ATC downtime


By bappaditya paul
State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) is setting up a redundancy microwave link to Kolkata airport to ensure uninterrupted feed from various air surveillance apparatus and radars from different locations in eastern India in the event of a snap in the existing primary optical fibre cable (OFC) link.BSNL LogoThe redundancy link is expected to become operational next week.
The move comes close on the heels of a BSNL OFC link failure on 18 October that had blacked out automated flight data transmission to the Kolkata Air Traffic Control (ATC) for nearly 10 hours; the controllers had salvaged the situation by falling back on an old mechanism that uses Very High Frequency (VHF) radio communication to locate and guide flights in the sky.

“Taking lessons from the incident, we have taken up two remedial measures. First, we are setting up a redundancy microwave link to the ATC building that will provide direct connectivity from our Dum Dum main exchange. Secondly, we are laying an OFC line interlinking the old and new terminals at Kolkata airport,” said Mr Asim Kumar Sinha, the spokesperson for BSNL’s Calcutta Telephones that serves the city airport.Mircrowave linkElaborating on the matter, Mr Sinha said that the existing OFC link to Kolkata ATC has “two circuits” for transmitting feeds from eight automatic dependant surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) units and nine radar stations located at different places in eastern India (including one inside Kolkata airport). “We will provide two more circuits on the redundancy microwave link so that in the event of a failure in the primary OFC link, feeds to the ATC remains uninterrupted,” he said.

Calcutta Telephones has already started work on the microwave link that includes installation of a microwave system and antenna at the ATC and another dedicated antenna at Dum Dum exchange. “The work will be over in next two-three days and the redundancy link will hopefully to become operational latest by early next week,” the officer maintained. Kolkata AirportAs regards interlinking Kolkata airport’s new and old terminal with an OFC line, the idea is to provide one more backup for the crucial flight operations and control services.

“We already have a microwave link to the new terminal and we are going to have a redundancy microwave link in the old terminal by next week. Now the idea is to interlink the two terminals with OFC so that in the event of a link failure in one terminal, the link from the other terminal will automatically shoulder the load and everything will run uninterrupted,” Mr Sinha explained.     Kolkata ATC consoleKolkata ATC carries out very important functions vis-à-vis flight services over entire eastern India and parts of the north-west India. Besides handling the near 300 flights that fly in and out of the Kolkata airport every day, it also
monitors around 700-800 aircraft that over-fly the Kolkata Flight Information Region (FIR) daily.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 30 October 2014.)

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Bangladesh border in West Bengal remians unfenced as state drags feet over land acquisition

By bappaditya paul

Even as West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee last week pointed fingers at Central security agencies over Bangladeshi infiltration, nearly 235 km stretch of the Bangladesh border in Bengal remains unfenced as the state government has been dragging its feet on acquiring the required land. Border milepostThis apart, work on a number of proposed border outposts of the Border Security Force (BSF) has been held up for sometime now over non-availability of land and so is the task of constructing border patrol roads.

According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) latest status report on border management, till 31 March this year, a 234.85 stretch of the Bangladesh border in Bengal could not be fenced due to “population residing within 150 yards of the border, pending land acquisition cases and protests by the border population.”

This is the longest unprotected stretch among five states that share India’s 4,096.70 km long international border with Bangladesh. Apart from the 2,216.70 km of this that runs through Bengal, Assam shares 263 km, Meghalaya 443 km, Tripura 856 km and Mizoram shares 318 km. The unfenced border in Assam now stands at about 4.8 km; in Meghalaya 115.57 km; in Tripura 65.54 km and in Mizoram it is 115.79 km. Unfenced borderAs regards border patrol road, of the 4,407.11 sanctioned length in the five states, 153 km remains incomplete in Bengal, 29 km in Assam, 151 km in Meghalaya, 190 km in Tripura and 187 km in Mizoram.

The Centre had in 2005 identified a 1,528 km stretch of Bangladesh border in Bengal that was to be protected from infiltration and smuggling by erecting barbed fences; out of this, sanction for fencing was made for 1,471 km in two phases.

While the Centre is directly implementing the task through its various agencies; the state’s role is to acquire the required land or removing encroachments as a major stretch of the borderland are under cultivation.

It is during the second phase work that the Central agencies began facing land hurdle. People living in border areas in several districts such as Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, North and South Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia and North 24 Parganas began to resist the move as the fencing were to come up on their paddy fields or homestead land. Border patrolThe Centre has thus been compelled to extend the fencing deadline time and again. Even after this, till now it has succeeded fencing only 729.15 km out of 964 km stretch sanctioned in phase-II. For the past two years, the fencing work has been progressing at a snail’s pace with barely 71 km being covered since the 2011-12.

The BSF, which man the Bangladesh border says that they have raised the matter with Bengal government several times but failed to convince them to expedite the facilitation of land for fencing, patrol roads and border outposts. “The latest meeting was held in August-September,” said a BSF officer not willing to be named.

A very senior official in the Bengal home department confirmed the veracity of the meeting but partially disagreed on what had transpired. “The meeting chaired by our chief secretary discussed land acquisition problem for some proposed border outposts, the proposal for which was submitted to us very late. As far as fencing is concerned, I don’t think they apprised us of any difficulty,” the officer said.Border road“Furthermore, one knows that the UPA government had passed a new land acquisition law but the present dispensation at Centre is yet to frame the corresponding rules. Hence, the country now does not have any functional land acquisition law; thus there is no question of Bengal government acquiring land now,” he added, requesting anonymity.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 17 October 2014.)

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Star Alliance picks Delhi, Mumbai airports for seamless hub project

By bappaditya paul
Global airline network, Star Alliance, has identified Delhi and Mumbai airports for its Seamless Hub Project that aims at facilitating efficient and speedy service to flyers. The move comes three months after Air India became a member of Star Alliance that has 27 airlines worldwide in its fold.Star Alliance1
“We have identified Mumbai and Delhi airports for Seamless Hub Projects. This will be implemented next year,” Star Alliance vice president, Customer Experience and IT, Mr Justin Erbacci, told a group of visiting journalists in Frankfurt. “On implementation, this will improve the quality of service to passengers at these airports and will especially ensure seamless transfers from one Star Alliance member airline to another.”

Seamless Hub Project is an initiative of Star Alliance wherein it undertakes physical survey of a selected airport and identifies both physical and technological loopholes that are a hindrance to smooth service to passengers that includes easy check-in, hassle-free security check and speedy inter/intra airline transfer of flyers and baggage. Right now, there are about 10 Seamless Hub Projects in various airports worldwide; Beijing and Bangkok are the only airports in Asia covered under the initiative.

Elaborating about the project, Mr Erbacci said: “Once we have identified the shortcomings, we seat with all stakeholders at an airport such as the airport management, operating airlines and ground handling agencies. We suggest them the changes that are required to improve passenger experience; our main focus remains on no-cost or low-cost solutions.”

Delhi Airport

The solutions may include repositioning of service desks, realigning the access route to various facilities, putting up additional airport signage or improving / repositioning the existing signage and putting in place a co-ordination mechanism for Star Alliance member airlines etc.

“A common check-in facility for all Star Alliance member airlines at the selected airport could be an additional feature of the Seamless Hub Project,” Mr Erbacci said. Of the 27 Star Alliance members, 11 airlines operate flights from Mumbai airport, while nine airlines operate flights from Delhi airport.

It takes about six to eight months to realise a Seamless Hub Project in its entirety, but some solutions could be implemented immediately after being identified.  Nitty-gritty of the Delhi and Mumbai projects will be thrashed out in Star Alliance’s next Chief Executive Board (CEB) meeting scheduled in December.


Star Alliance CEO, Mr Mark Schwab, clarified that irrespective of whether there was a change in Air India leadership (read chairman-cum-managing director) or not over the next two months, the CEB would meet in New Delhi in December as scheduled.

“Mr (Rohit) Nandan has done a terrific job vis-à-vis putting Air India on the path to a turn-around. But it’s entirely the prerogative of AI owners (read the Government of India) to pick up new leadership, if they and when they want to,” Mr Schwab said when told that New Delhi was considering posting a new CMD for Air India. “Irrespective of whether there is change of guard in AI, the CEB meeting would be held in Delhi. Our agreement with AI would continue; we have very high-level of confidence on them.”

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India and was in Frankfurt from 6-9 October on an invitation of Star Alliance. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 12 October 2014.)

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