Even after the pandemic ends, The Indian Railway may stop providing blankets, pillows & bedsheets in its AC coaches after it resumes its full services.
While formal decision is yet to be made final, the issue is learnt to be discussed at a high level video conference between Railway Board top brass and zonal and divisional officials earlier this week.
“We are moving in that direction,” confirmed a senior Railway Ministry official who attended the Video conferencing.
According to the sources a committee is being formed to come to a decision on what to do with the mechanised mega laundries, set up to wash the linen under the Build-Operate-Own-Transfer model across India.
An estimate of Rs 40-50 is being spent by The Railway for washing each linen set. According to estimates, there are about 18 lakh linen sets in circulation at present. A blanket remains in service for about 48 months, and is washed once a month. At present no new linen items are being procured, sources said.
Besides the cost involved, linen sets, especially blankets and sheets, have been a regular cause of passenger complaints and even Parliament questions.
In last few months, about 20 railway divisions have given contracts to private vendors for selling disposable blankets, pillows and sheets at stations at cheap prices.
For instance, Danapur Division of East Central Railway has five such vendors, who together pay the Railways about Rs 30 lakh per year. About 50 such vendors have set up shop in railway stations across India.
Officials said that instead of recurring expenditure, this option turns linen management into an opportunity to earn non-fare revenue. And with modern temperature control settings in AC coaches, the need for blankets could be eliminated, said an official.
“Currently, we are not giving linen because of the Covid situation. When the situation becomes normal, all these decisions will be up for review. It is hypothetical to say anything else at this point,” Railway Ministry Spokesperson said.
The Railways also not serving cooked food on trains and opting for ready-to-eat food items instead. Sources said this practice too may remain “for some time” even after normal train operations resume. Some railway divisions are learnt to have started discussions with packaged food manufacturers and suppliers on the possibility of long-term contracts.