From September 1, the Southern Railway (SR) has decided to suspend on board housekeeping services (OBHS) on 86 long-distance trains, most of them originating from Kerala and Tamil Nadu due to lack of funds.
Southern Railway is planning to withdraw linen supply, pest control and bio-toilet maintenance contracts on these 86 trains. Senior railway officials in Chennai, Madurai, Palghat, Thiruvananthapuram, Tiruchi and Salem have been intimated to issue notices to contractors to suspend on board housekeeping operations, reported The Hindu.
Out of the 110 long-distance trains run by Southern Railway, on board housekeeping operations will be retained only on 24 trains. Services will continue on trains such as the Tamil Nadu Express, Grand Trunk Express, Kerala Express and Navajeevan Express.
In total, 74.5% of zone’s network is in Tamil Nadu, with the rest running through Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Puducherry. SR operates a total of 1,313 trains, including suburban ones.
According to a report in The Hindu, Principal chief mechanical engineer Shubranshu, writing to the divisions, said estimation of the money saved due to keeping on board housekeeping services contracts in abeyance should be sent to the zone headquarters by August 8. After these estimates are sent, “further curtailment of services such as Annual Maintenance and Operation Contract (AMOC) of bio-toilets, pest control and even linen will be considered”, the information said.
The Hindu had previously reported that the Southern Railway had sent an SOS to the Ministry of Railways on July 5, warning that if adequate funds were not sent by the end of August, it would have to suspend the services.
Southern railway was hoping to receive “enough funds to pay pending bills to the tune of ₹22 crore to the contractors and another ₹130 crore to keep the amenities and housekeeping services on”, The Hindu reported on Monday.
While the SOS was sent on July 5, it did not receive a response from the ministry, prompting the zone to send another reminder around two weeks ago.
Southern Railway’s projected requirement for contractual payments was of ₹194 cr, but the budget allocated for 2019-20 was only ₹108 crore. The Hindu reported: “While a sum of ₹39 crore was already spent from the allocation in the current fiscal, there was a liability of ₹155 crore which was ₹86 crore more than the available funds.”
A senior railway officer told the daily newspaper that if there continues to be no response, the zone will be forced to withdraw pest control and bio-toilet maintenance services. It is also preparing for the eventuality of passenger complaints on dirty coaches and stinking toilets. “This is a major setback to the ongoing Swachch Bharat mission on Indian Railways,” the official said.
The crunch has already started to affect the condition of trains and stations. According to a report in Times of India, water availability, track maintenance and cleanliness of stations – particularly smaller and suburban ones – has been impacted. Some stations also do not have sufficient medicines stock.