Rajiv Mittal, <g data-gr-id="36">owner</g> of the popular Comesum group, which runs many preferred eating <g data-gr-id="35">joint</g> at most railway stations, found himself in a thick soup when the CBI decided to conduct inspections at his offices and residence, as part of their investigations into the Rail Neer scam. So far, the CBI has recovered a total amount of Rs 27 crore, of which Rs 1.5 crore has been recovered from the residence and office premises of Rajiv Mittal. The investigation further states that the whole scam started under the UPA Government between 2004 and 2009 when Lalu Prasad Yadav was Union Railway Minister. It is said that Mittal grew from a small-time trader to a billionaire under Lalu’s close associate and former cabinet minister Prem Chand Gupta.
Trains have always been the common man’s mode of long and medium-distance travel in India. It is only in the past decade that premium trains such as Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto have taken shape. The popular catering division that made these trains popular, namely, “Meals on Wheels”, is owned by kingpin Rajiv Mittal. As per sources, it has been recorded that Mittal bribed his way through senior officials in the Railways to get his way with catering in these premium trains without any competition, keeping other bidders out. Also, Mittal’s company has violated basic norms time and again. Sources also reveal that the Railways were billed for food that was not even supplied to the passengers in the first place. It was during the regime of current West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was then Union Railway <g data-gr-id="38">Minister,</g> when attempts were made to uproot the Mittal syndicate. However, all her efforts went unacknowledged as most senior railway officials, who had the right to authorise contracts, were not only bribed but had by then featured on Mittal’s regular pay roll.
In a country like India, there are billions of passengers who bank on the railways in spite of accidents and irregularities on a regular basis. As the most economical means of long distance transport across the country, these customers have often chosen the railways in the hope that the system will improve. However, such corruption and inefficiency, with false promises, have lead to a drop in over 150 million passengers in the past few months. Many customers have evidently lost hope. Between April and August in 2014, the railways boasted of a total of 3575 million passengers. However, during the same period this year, there has been a significant drop in number accounting to only about 3425 million. This has now been the second consecutive year of that downward trend. The primary reason for the drop in numbers is amongst the urban middle class, who now use alternative methods of transport as far as short and medium-distance travel is concerned.
In the five-year railway plan, Suresh Prabhu had earlier proposed an idea of a steep 52% increase in expenditure during the 2015-16 tenure. The additional finances will be used to improve railway infrastructure both in terms of passenger trains and freight to compete against rival aircrafts and truck transportation companies, according to Prabhu. However, under the current scheme of things, the retention of the good old passengers could be an initiative that the ministry could take under consideration. Moreover, the question remains, whether the minister will do away with Mittal’s corrupt catering syndicate that has time and again cheated customers of quality service.