Despite overwhelming protests from passengers and Railways unions, the Indian Railways has not reversed the decision to fit third foldable berths in the side seats of Sleeper and Third Air-conditioned compartments
Aiming to generate additional revenues from the traveling public, the Railway Board issued directions to the two coach manufacturing units (Railways Coach Factory (RCF) at Kapurthala and the Integrated Coach Factory, Chennai) in 2007, instructing them to fit an additional side berth – increasing the capacity from 72 to 81 berths in sleeper compartments and from 64 to 72 berths in AC-3 coaches.
Of the total of 16,000 high-capacity coaches that were planned, 7000 are estimated to have rolled out and are in operation. Plans were to additionally retrofit 9000 older coaches with the extra berths in a phased manner.
After having gone so far and invested substantial sums towards providing for the additional berths, the ministry has been on a bind on the issue and has been dilly-dallying over a decision. Ministry officials refused to divulge details about costs incurred in fitting the additional berths.
If the scheme is not reversed by the month-end – when the election code of conduct will come into effect – rail passengers will continue to be saddled with the obnoxious sleeping arrangements in sleeper and Third AC compartments, a ministry official pointed out.
“The scheme is “under review”, ministry spokesman Anil Kumar Saxena said. "The RCF has not recieved directions to stop the manufacture of the high capacity coaches", unit spokesman Gurjit Singh said.
“Mountains of protest letters from the aggrieved passengers been piling up in our office and we have conveyed these sentiments to the Railway Board members from time to time”, said Umraomal Purohit, President of the National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR). In several memorandums submitted over past months, the All India Railwaymen Federation (AIRF) has also put up strong pleas to scrap the scheme.
In its reservation website, the Indian Railways has put up a feedback form on the scheme. A vast majority of passengers, particularly from the southbound trains, have opposed the scheme, ministry sources said.
While providing for no luggage space for three passengers, the scheme is being faulted on other grounds: The third passenger on the side berth usually spends the day sitting in the cabin side, which is usually resented by other passengers.
Because high capacity coaches are interchangeable, the numbering system of berths has also gone haywire, as aggrieved passengers have pointed out.
Some Train Ticket Examiners (TTEs) are reported to have developed back problems because of sitting in a crooked manner on the three-fold berth while checking the tickets.