Have you ever travelled in AC sleeper class on a train and not worried about the cleanliness of the bedsheets, blankets and pillows offered to you? That is set to change. The next time you book your train ticket you could be asked if you’d like a clean, new bed kit, comprising a towel, a single sheet, a double sheet and a pillow cover that you could take home with you after the journey, Indian Railways is looking to source these pure cotton bed kits from the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) and offer them to passengers travelling in its air-conditioned (AC) sleeper coaches at a nominal Rs 250 per kit. Two railway officials, requesting anonymity, confirmed that the idea is being examined and a final decision on it will be taken by the end of December. The concept of takeaway bed kits and sourcing these from KVIC was mooted by railway minister Piyush Goyal during a meeting in early October. Incidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his monthly ‘Mann ki Baat’ radio speech on 24 September had urged the people to support the growth of the Khadi industry by using clothes made out of the fabric, which in turn will create employment for the poor. “I am hopeful that the railways will be able to give a choice to passengers while buying tickets to pay and buy bed kits. The kits will be delivered to buyers before the journey begins,” said one of the officials, adding that the cost of the bed kit is likely to be around Rs 250.
The railways will continue to provide pillows and blankets to all passengers, irrespective of whether they opt for the takeaway kit or not. However, the railways is also considering offering blankets with covers so that these can be washed and a fresh cover provided to passengers. At present, blankets are provided without covers and passengers often complain about them not being clean. Linen for 2AC and 3AC passengers are presently sourced from a private supplier, AAKASH, while in 1AC Khadi linen from KVIC is provided. The bed kits procured from AAKASH cost Rs 160 each, while those from KVIC cost about Rs 425. At present, there are about 1 lakh bedsheets in circulation in the Indian Railways with 60% of them being used in 3AC, and the rest in 2AC and 1AC. While the rolling out of the buy-your-bed-kit programme seems like a promising idea, there are certain challenges. “Problem is after people buy it once — especially frequent travellers — will they be willing to buy again? Also, the volume is huge and there is no such model in the world which we can simply follow,” said the official quoted above.
“If we make the kit purchase optional, we need to consider the logistics as well, because in the same train we will have to offer both takeaway and railway linen. Also, for bookings that are done at the last moment, there will be a small time window to arrange the kits,” said another railway official. IRCTC has been offering an e-bedroll takeaway service, which offers a bed kit and blanket for Rs 250. Though there is no official figure available, the railway officials FE spoke to said there have been few takers. The railways is also experimenting with the concept of doing away with bedrolls altogether and just adjusting temperatures inside the coaches depending on the weather conditions.
“The experiment of temperature adjustment is on but the problem will arise in winter. In winter, temperature will have to be increased through heaters and this poses a fire-safety issue, as heaters will have to be installed,” said the second official cited above. As temperatures vary across the country, the railways will need a universal solution, which suits all railway zones. “The real test will be when peak winter will arrive and the test will be to maintain a constant 24-25 degree Celsius,” added the official. Given where things stand today, it is quite likely that you’ll get to buy that crisp and clean Khadi sheet to sleep on during your next train journey. And the unseen handloom weavers will thank you for your business and wish you a happy journey.