The proposed branding of trains as Pepsi Rajdhani & Coke Shatabdi heralds the end of transparency revolution under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In essence, the government is billing the public indirectly instead of increasing passenger fares fearing public ire.
Advertisement revenues don’t fall from the skies bur are passed on to the unsuspecting consumers by increase in product or service prices of the advertiser. In effect, the Railways gets a part of the increased revenues of the Pepsi & Coca Cola companies while they make windfall profits from such increase. It is so disappointing to see the Modi government also sliding into this pit of compromised national standards of public policy, morality and public figures. What ideals is the Modi government going to set up before the coming generations? Will it be Paisa hi sab kucch hai?
Besides, the gravest health hazard in the country is posed by the soft drink manufacturers. They are responsible for increase in diabetes in the country- almost to an epidemic proportion. Unfortunately our research institutions have little to offer for public guidance on the ill effects of these cola drinks. If some NGO has produced any report, it has either been ignored by the government or the researchers discouraged from pursuing it any further. The FSSAI can commission a research in public interest and come out with a White Paper on the subject.
The addiction to such drinks is no less harmful than the old practice of Bhang drinking. The colours, sugar (rather saccharine), impure water, unhygienic bottling, storage and consumption is one of the biggest threats to public health, especially children and the youth. It is a drain on a family’s income and the national exchequer. The threat to public health increases when the spurious bottling on a very large scale is taken in to account. It sells in the national capital too. In marriages in the countryside, spurious cola is supplied at less than a rupee per bottle. Its potential for harm to public health can only be imagined, especially during summers as it can cause cholera epidemic also.
Now that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi had threatened “corruption” in the strongest language “Naa khaungaa, naa khaane doongaa”, followed by his sharpest attack on it by demonetising the old 500/1000 rupee currency notes, it has managed to infect his government through other means: advertisements & branding of trains as Pepsi Rajdhani & Coke Shatabdi.
It would be one of the greatest tragedies since 2014, if corruption by any other name seeps into the Modi dispensation. Crass commercialisation is not what the wise and honesty loving Indians want. This sets a wrong model before them. Minting money should never be the goal of a transparent government. A good ruler never takes to commercial activity so easily to satisfy his greed for money. It would only be apt to recall here the question posed to King Parikshit by Kaliyug when the king ordered him to leave his kingdom. Kaliyug told him that as his Praja(citizen) he was entitled to some place to reside and hence prayed to the king to tell him where he should reside. The king contemplated for some time and showed him the place: to reside in gold. Kaliyug was immensely happy to hear the king and promptly entered the king’s crown made of gold and jewels. Has the idea of railway revenues through advertisements and branding of trains and railway stations done the same to Prime Minister Modi?
It would amount to issuing corporate of even questionable credentials testimonials of fair business practice, whereas they have been the biggest exploiters of the consumers because of acting corrupt in nexus with corrupt ministers and bureaucrats, and biggest generators of black money. Try contacting them for any consumer grievance on the contact numbers printed on the bottles of Pepsi/Coke and you will never get them. Once they buy out even a strong government like Modi’s they will act brutal towards the consumers. In Lutyens Delhi, Pepsi/Coke bottles provide the perfect cover to clandestine sale of liquor in violation of excise laws and causing loss of revenue to the state. There is no stopping such activities because they are run by toughs under the patronage of the powerful. Branding trains after these corporate will only extend their operations on Rajdhani & Shatabdi trains, with fatal consequences for the travelling public, especially girls. It might start with MNCs but there will be no stopping the local goons soon claiming equality and may even get a judicial order passed in their favour. This decision can’t be called in public interest and can hardly be justified on that ground.
The Railways have been suffering losses due to leakage of revenue. Participate in any railway auction of old rolling stock or damaged property and witness the mafia controlling them to learn the scale of loot of public property. Leakage from passenger and freight operations is equally eye opening. Board the Dehradun Express or Ahmedabad Mail from Old Delhi Railway station and just keep noting the unofficial sale of berths in sleeper coaches. Lakhs of railway passes have been issued to thousands in real or imaginary membership on some or the other committee. While the railways turn poor the operators of unholy loot get richer by the year.
The Nation under Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to set high ideals and sustainable development goals to create healthy and quality employment and livelihood opportunities. Easy money deserts easy too. What if Pepsi or Coke suddenly stop patronizing the Railways? What if they are found liable for criminal offences by the courts or NCRCD and imposed fines in millions for causing harm to the consumers’ health? Will they not try to influence the government? Will the Railways not come under pressure from them to exercise influence (unlawfully) to get them relief?
Those of us who are familiar with the Licence Raj era know how the liquor, beer and cigarette lobbies used to control, regulate and devise policies to suit them. It was all on the strength of huge profits made by them and scientifically shared with all concerned, including “donations” to the political parties. Even today, their diary entries (fake or genuine) are the subject of political debate and a court case. Why would the corporate pay influential people unless it is a kind of quid pro quo of a very unholy kind? The kindness of the corporate and their liberal donations can kill functioning industrial units like the National Textiles Corporation, MTNL/BSNL, Air India & Indian Airlines, HMT and dozens other units. Looters should not find an easy entry to loot the national assets like the Railways built on hard labour and tax payer money.
The government would be well advised to shun such bogus ideas, as they are bound to harm the mental health of the vast majority of honest Indians.