An unprecedented fund crunch is set to raise a stink in the Southern Railways, with cleaning services in over 80 trains facing suspension from September 1. Authorities have decided to temporarily stop Onboard House Keeping services (OBHS) due to paucity of funds for contractual payments
This development comes after contractors tied to the railways for housekeeping services, demanded payment pending for over three months now. However, according to sources, the Railway Ministry is yet to release adequate funds to cover payment for housekeeping services. The Centre didn't even reply to a letter written by General Manager of Southern Railways, Rahul Jain on August 7, detailing the urgent requirement of additional funds for essential passenger amenity items. The Southern Railways listed pending bills of Rs.22 crore to the contractors and ₹130 crore to keep the amenities and housekeeping services on.
However, with no response coming in from the Railway Ministry despite the clear signs of distress, the Southern Railways decided to suspend OBHS on many trains, mostly starting from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Currently housekeeping services are available on 110 trains but it will only continue in trains that have a journey of over a day. These services include laundry, change in linen, cleaning of coaches and pest control.
These are the only trains in Southern Railway which might be clean on Southern Railway. The rest of the 86 trains will have no cleaning while it runs. Southern Railway says its because of funds crunch. pic.twitter.com/2ljGP7xg4j— Vasu (@vasudevan_k) August 21, 2019
Speaking to TNM, a senior railway official stated that a video conference is to be held on Thursday, with the Chairman of the Railways board.
"This is a monthly affair where all General Managers and other senior officers hold a discussion. Last time when we held the call, our GM raised the issue of a severe fund crunch. Now things have escalated and contractors who asked for payments have given up," he says. "It is a situation that is very rarely seen as far the railways is concerned. It shouldn't have been allowed to come down to this. Once we stop services, people will start tweeting and calling the railways. And automatically, things will improve," he adds.
In their letter to the Centre, the railways ministry had said that the liabilities for the rest of the year amounts to Rs.155 crores after spending Rs.39 crore. Against this liability, the availability of funds is only Rs.69 crore. The existing funds, wrote the General Manager, will be enough for us only for the bills raised for works done upto the month of August-September 2019..
Officials however believe that the meeting on Thursday will address the existing fund crunch and help recover from the ongoing delay in payments.