Indian Railways, India.
Since Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu ushered in a Twitter revolution, complaints have been pouring in faster and winning the fourth largest rail network in the world a new kind of respect.
With the emergence of social sites on the internet as a convenient way to share experiences and spread messages with friends, groups and out in public view of millions of viewers in the 21st century, it appears government organizations are not hesitating to tap into the enormous potential, tune in to the voice of the ordinary people and set up direct communication lines untainted by prejudice, corruption, outdated procedures that delay speedy solutions or the inability of area officials to deal with matters in hand.
The Indian Railways for instance recently opened its own Twitter Helpline that allows passengers from across the country to directly get in touch with concerned authorities for any sort of issue that might plague them during train travel or while waiting to board at any one of its stations.
Introduced by Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu to make a journey by train a hassle free experience for an estimated 23 million commuters traveling through the country each day and with the intention of clearly implying the Indian Railways does indeed care for the welfare of each and every passenger, the helpline has been much appreciated by badgered wayfarers who did not have to put up with the discomfort of their situations like before.
Among several examples, that speak of the efficiency of the helpline and the promptness with which the Indian Railways responded to complaints and requests are those of Pankaj Jain, a wayfarer in need of a wheelchair, and lone woman traveler Namrata Mahajan who complained of sexual harassment (See NDTV news bulletin: SOS on Twitter Get Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu’s Express Attention). Another is of a group of 27 school students in need of a meal when their train was delayed due to a detour (See Hindustan Times news bulletin: Students tweet to railways for food on delayed train, get delivery.)
Judging by these frequent news bulletins published by some of the leading dailies, it is apparent the new helpline seems to be working like a fine bridge connecting authorities and wayfarers in real time and producing immediate solutions, at least till now.
Though still very much a prototype in need of refinement, the system appears to have none the less ushered in a vast improvement in terms of traveler convenience. Especially from the old days of standing in queue waiting to fill-up the old complaint book or having to sweat it out and wait for a journey to end. All one needs is a mobile phone with an internet connection and a Twitter account to be heard in the right places.
What makes the Indian Railways Twitter Helpline an effective solution.
Twitter is an elite social site with 22.2 million users in India as of 2015. It is an independent platform not owned by the Indian Railways and as a social site its greatest benefit is transparency and real time connectivity. Once a person Tweets in a message addressed to a recipient, the message is delivered not lost, blocked or tampered with. Secondly, once the message appears on the recipient site within seconds of posting, the sender can not only see it there but also what’s happening to the complaint or request put in, as can other visitors and government cells, If per chance the Indian Railways fails to acknowledge a complaint or request which is unlikely, the sender can follow up and demand to know why no action has been taken with a second Tweet right out in the open.
How to Tweet in a complaint or request.
The easiest way to Tweet in a complaint or request is to visit the Ministry of Railways Twitter Page by entering into the search bar “Ministry of Railways” and then typing into a pop-up window that opens your request or complaint.
If the pop-up window does not open for some reason, two other alternatives include clicking on the “Tweet To the Ministry Railways Button” provided for in the Ministry of Railways Twitter Page to submit your message or clicking on the Direct Message Button in your own Twitter page and addressing the message to @RailMinIndia.
Twitter’s direct message facility can also be used to connect with the General Managers and Divisional Railway Managers of the different zones, addresses of which can be found here. If a person is more inclined to addressing grievances or requests to the management personnel looking after a specific zone, the Indian Rail Ministry suggests additionally tagging them in the message as well so they are in the loop. Some passengers are known to have even tagged in the Rail Minister @sureshpprabhu.
What the message should include.
For the Indian Railways to take a complaint or request seriously and offer quick assistance, mentioning the Personal Name Record (PNR) number is a requisite. The Personal Name Record is generated when a commuter books a train ticket and is based on necessary details required for getting on board. It is a ten digit number printed on the top of a plain ticket and in a cell in an e-ticket.
Twitter allows a maximum of 140 characters per Tweet which means the message a person submits has to be brief and blunt – mention crucial details only which importantly should without fail include the train you are on, the route, or the railway station to help the Indian Railways pinpoint your location. If the message demands more space, submit it in two or three Tweets.
In what language should one submit the message.
Even if Twitter supports over 40 languages with Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi and Tamil making up its Indian regional languages portfolio currently, composing your message in either English or Hindi is the best option – as web translation services are not accurate and may distort the message.
How fast does the Indian railways actually respond?
The Indian Railways currently receives close to 5,000 Tweets a day. The Tweets are monitored 24×7 and responded to by their level of seriousness or urgency. By this logic a complaint of sexual harassment or threat to personal safety feature on top as do medical emergencies and dealt with very quickly. Second come complaints against the Railway management, uncooperative personnel, meals, hygiene or matters that need immediate attention within trains or in stations. Last come complaints and requests that are not of immediate importance and can be solved later. Till date the Indian Railways has managed to acknowledge Tweets quickly, respond to them in time and offer immediate solutions and apologies if required. It remains to be seen if the system will continue to be as responsive once more commuters become aware of the helpline and numbers double.
For non Twitter users.
If a person is not on Twitter, doesn’t want to open an account or find the procedure irksome, the Indian Railways provides a sms and toll free telephone helpline service, numbers of which can be found on the Indian Railways SMS, webcomplaints and suggestions portal. While the Twitter Helpline is the best bet with its open social site transparency and real time connectivity, the sms, email and toll free helpline are stated to be equally good and prompt with Rail Minister Prabhu expressing his inclination towards further streamlining the services as a part of planned upgrades for the Indian Railways.
That the Indian Railways customer friendly initiatives, specifically its Twitter Helpline, are making things much simpler for a traveler is a certain reality that cannot be ignored. Anyone who has journeyed through the length and breadth of India, can vouch what an ordeal it can be to ask for and get prompt assistance on the spot when need beckons, specially when there still persists in several parts of the country a callous attitude to dealing with people on a human level – calls are never answered, emails never responded to and frequently denied, personnel never around to listen to problems, procedures that policies that leave one utterly rogered and rude attendants who buffet folks around from department to department in a lengthy list. A direct line and transparent system does make the difference and the Indian Railways seems to be among the first organizations to be proving it right.