Free travel is becoming an acceptable norm in former railway minister Mamata Banerjee’s signature train — the non-stop Duronto.
Launched in 2010 during Banerjee’s tenure, the Duronto was the only Indian train that did not permit free rail travel. However, things changed after Banerjee quit as the railway minister to take charge as the CM of West Bengal in May 2011.
At first, MPs inched their way into the Duronto on free tickets. Subsequently, members of various railways committees — including the passenger services committee and passenger amenities committee — also wangled their way in, followed by defence personnel travelling on railway warrants.
Following a recent order, duty pass holders were also permitted free travel on Duronto trains, and now, the 14-lakh strong workforce of the Indian Railways is clamouring for their slice of the pie.
The Railways provides three privilege passes to 14 lakh employees, and six for its 1,200-strong cadre of officers. These passes were allowed on all trains, except for the Duronto.
Interestingly, the issue cropped up after a public announcement by sacked railway minister Dinesh Trivedi in Chennai last November, when he announced that he would make privilege passes valid for Duronto trains as well. “But, despite that, the officials have not implemented the decision in full. They are awaiting Mamata’s nod. This is really odd,” said Shiv Gopal Mishra of the All India Railway Men Federation (AIRF).
Meanwhile, the cost of providing free passes to railway employees has been mounting steadily. The expenditure for providing a free travel pass to a single railway employee worked out to Rs. 3,311 in 2010, as against Rs. 429 in 2002.