Recently, the Indian Railways reported that about 21 lakh bedroll items worth over Rs 14 crore went missing from the AC coaches during 2017-18. This is baffling when we consider that individuals who could pay for the AC-ticket, can definitely afford to buy these items. It seems they took the writing ‘Railways is your property’ a bit too seriously and conveniently forgot to read the ‘protect it’ part of the whole sentence!
The value of the items people steal may not be much but replacing them will definitely cost much more. These are the same people would fight tooth and nail to secure even a brick of their house. Why this differential treatment to personal and public property? Further, they fail to understand that this public property is financed through our own money — the taxes that we pay. Thus, when we are vandalising public property, are not we damaging our own money?
What would the individuals who steal the items from railways be telling their kids once they reach home? What kind of an example are we setting for our next generation? Some may say when we witness rampant corruption around and the corrupt going scot-free, it is not easy to remain honest. But even if honesty is a luxury, should we become thieves?
Playing our part
There is an interesting story about the love of country. Once Swami Ramtirth was travelling by train in Japan. When the train stopped at a station, he tried to find some fruits for his meal but could not get any. Out of disappointment, he sighed and said, “Possibly, good fruits are not available in Japan!”
There was a young Japanese man standing there who overheard him. He knew Hindi so he understood what he is saying. The young man rushed out of the station and returned in some time with a basket of fresh fruits. He gave the fruit-basket to Swami Ramtirth, who was much obliged and offered money in return of the fruits. The young man refused to take the money and requested that all the Swamiji needs to do is not to tell anyone that good fruits are not available in Japan.
Why did the young man take all this pain? The simple answer is out of love for his country. Now compare this incident with the incidents of people stealing beddings from trains in India. Which way we should be?
Everyone wants to feel the beauty of her/his country. But who should take responsibility for keeping our country beautiful? How do you feel when you are out there and find someone urinating by the side of the road!
This question again has two aspects: one, do we have a proper civic sense not to urinate by the side of the road, and the other, do we have sufficient facilities built so that a person is not forced to do this. This brings us to the responsibility of the providers of public utilities — the government. There is no denying the fact that public services in India are in bad shape. We do not have public urinals at most of the places or by the highways.
According to the sewerage and sewage treatment systems manual (2013) of the Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation, there should be one public toilet on road for every one kilometre of open areas including car parks, plaza, parks, open-air theatre and fuel stations.
A drive along almost any road in the country will reveal the actual situation. Some might like to argue that people can use restrooms in nearby hotels or restaurants rather than relieving themselves by the side of the road. But how many of us ever use this option? Do you think a common citizen would even dare to enter a star hotel to use its restroom!
Who would not want to have the honour of being a citizen of a strong and great nation? While we want to take pride that our country is better than others, at the same time, we leave the responsibility of making our nation great to others.
The greatness of a nation is its public good. Even if one does not contribute toward it, s/he will enjoy the privilege if others make it great.
As a citizen of a great nation, we also have some responsibilities. Let me share a story: The people of one village decided to make their village unique. After a lot of brainstorming, they decided to build a pond full of milk. Definitely, no other village had such a pond. And so they dug a pond. Every household was given the responsibility of pouring one bucket of milk in the pond that night so that from the next day the pond should be full of milk. Guess what happened the next morning! Everyone headed straight to the pond expecting a beautiful and unique sight. But voila! The pond was full of water without a trace of milk in it.
Everyone thought that others would pour milk so even if they pour one bucket of water, no one would notice it. This is similar to how people think about the glory of the nation: let others work for it, what would happen even if I do not bother about it! Please bring in your bucket of milk.
(The author is Assistant Professor of Economics, BITS Pilani, Hyderabad)