Commuters face woes as NFR struggles for 24 hrs chemist’s tender
42-year-old Sailen Medhi hoped for relief from a stomach ache that he felt two hours after he boarded the Kamrup Express from Dimapur, Nagaland at 2 am. He reached Guwahati railway station at 6 am only to be disappointed by the closed shutters.
The railway station that has a traffic of more than 150 trains daily throughout the day and night doesn’t have a 24 hour-open chemist’s shop or pharmacy which has led to endless miseries for the passengers, especially those who travel late at night.
The only pharmacy, located on Platform No. 1 about 10 metres from the senior station manager’s office, only opens for two shifts – 9 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to 9 pm.
“The pain was excruciating and all it needed to subside was a pill. For that, I had to walk more than a kilometre. I searched the entire station and found all sorts of shops selling tea and grocery items, even a few gutkhas, but not a single chemist store. Finally on finding one, its shutter was down while a tea shop was open just adjacent to it,” Medhi said.
He further added, “This clearly shows what bears more priority to the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR). If this was my condition, I cannot even fathom the kind of hardships the medical passengers are facing,” Medhi told G Plus.
The contract for the chemist shop was given to one person named RN Das. Das cannot be found at any other time except at the time that he opens his shop. When G Plus spoke to him, Das said that he was not given a 24 hour license and that business is not very flourishing in the late hours.
“I have been licensed to open twice in the day only. I could have extended the licensing terms, but it didn’t seem like a very profitable business proposition. Opening 24 hours means manning the stall in three eight-hourly shifts. Sales being lesser at night, it won’t even cover my costs if I keep it open till late. Even now also, we don’t get much business through medicines as most of the people tend to travel with their own medicines and I have to survive by selling juice, ORS and bottled water mostly,” Das said.
Gravity of the problem
However, commuters point out that medicines fall under one of the basic amenities and are not an item that cannot be measured through profitability.
“Of course people will travel with medicines, but even then, it is one of the basic amenities which needs to be present at all times. Otherwise, if people suddenly fall ill, there won’t be any medicine available,” Parikshit Deuri, who travelled from Dhubri said.
Another passenger, Raju Sahu, travelling from Darbhanga in Bihar, who had to halt at the Guwahati railway station for more than 10 hours, shared the kind of harassment he faced due to lack of a pharmacy.
“I felt a bit of shiver when I boarded the Awadh-Assam Express from Darbhanga. The shiver progressed to fever by the time I reached Guwahati at around 3.40 am. On reaching I realised that I had missed the midnight train to Agartala, my final destination. There was another train the next afternoon and I had to stay at the station for the night. I thought of taking medicines from the pharmacy but found none. I had to suffer for the rest of the night,” Sahu said.
Pabitra Gogoi, a regular commuter from Sivasagar recalling one of his experiences from last May when he was travelling with his ailing mother for her treatment in Guwahati, said, “She (the mother) had high pressure and high blood sugar due to which we carried almost all the medicines for gastric and her prescribed ones. But during the journey, she suddenly developed pain in her lower back and she could not get up. I rushed down the platform to buy a pain reliever or some kind of spray for her pain, but found none. Finally, after a lot of struggle and with the help of fellow passengers, we got her off the train. A simple chemist’s shop would have solved all the harassment.”
The railway department on the other hand is facing a different problem – lack of bidders. The Senior Station Manager at Guwahati had already sent a requirement for a 24-hour chemist shop several times, but no reply came from the NFR headquarters in Maligaon.
“This had been a persistent problem of this railway station. I have sent the request for a 24-hour chemist shop twice. The station manager before me too sent the same quite a few times, but no reply came from them. That is why, on an ad hoc basis, we have set up a medical camp near the gate to Platform No. 1. We were only capable of giving a few basic medicines, but that does not serve the purpose,” Paresh Kalita, Senior Station Manager said.
“One must realise that Guwahati being an important station not only serves commuters but also serves those who change trains and choose to stay on the platform or the waiting halls to spend a night. In most of the cases, they are poor and weary from their journeys and need basic medical attention such as ORS, gastric or acidity medicines or pain killers. We should be able to make those available to them round the clock at least,” Kalita added.
When G Plus contacted the NFR headquarters, Public Relation Officer Nripen Bhattacharya said, “The railway has put up several tenders. But we’ve got very few bidders for the same. People don’t want to open chemist shops due to lesser profit margin. We provide ORS and other medicines to passengers when the rush is more during festive seasons or Ambubachi Mela and Bol Bom. We also set up medical camps when trains get stranded due to floods or natural calamities. We have put up the concern to the Railway’s head office too and a permanent solution can only be reached after receiving an order from them.”
• The railway station that has a traffic of more than 150 trains daily doesn’t have a 24 hour-open chemist’s shop
• The solitary pharmacy, located on Platform No. 1, about 10 metres from the senior station manager’s office, opens only for two shifts – 9 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to 9 pm
• The senior station manager had already sent a requirement for a 24-hour chemist’s shop several times, but no reply has ever come from the NFR headquarters in Maligaon
• People don’t want to open pharmacy due to lesser profit margin, NFR said.