Mumbai: Meet the first lady ticket checker of WRs flying squad
What does it take to be the first lady ticket checker of WR's flying squad? We shadow recently recruited Geeta Ben Vasava to find out
It's 5.30 on a Thursday evening, when 48-year-old Geeta Ben Vasava makes her way into Platform No. 3 of Mumbai Central railway station. In 20 minutes, her duty will begin when the super-fast express Flying Ranee, leaves for Surat in Gujarat.
The din is palpable as passengers, luggage in tow, rush towards their coaches; some are even seen reaching out to the railway conductor for a last minute reservation. Vasava lumbers through the platform, passively observing this movement, only reacting when she sees a beggar blocking the entrance to one of the coaches. Less than a minute later, the beggar is asked to leave the train, with a strict warning. If not for her stern demeanour, the soft-spoken Vasava doesn't look like a task master. But, the role change happens right after she wears her newly-acquired railway badge.
Vasava is no ordinary railway staffer. Two weeks ago, she was appointed as the first lady ticket checker in Western Railway's 25-member flying squad — a team that operates under the principal chief commercial manager, and was started in the year 2002. Known as the crème de la crème of the WR's ticket-checking force, the team, besides discharging regular ticketing duties on all key stations on the line, including Maharashtra, parts of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, also conducts surprise checks on express trains, and monitors the work of the junior staff on the trains, especially cases involving fraud and irregularities. "The nature of this job is such that it requires odd-time travelling and sudden postings on express trains.
Hence, there weren't many takers for the post among our female staff. However, for the first time, Vasava has agreed to take up the challenge," says Ravinder Bhakar, chief PRO, WR. The results have been stellar. In a period of 10 days since Vasava joined the squad, she has collected fines totalling Rs 70,780.
When we meet Vasava, she is just readying to board Flying Ranee. Originally from the small town of Bharuch in Gujarat, this is her first posting outside her home state, since she joined WR in 1991, after completing her BA from Veer Narmad South Gujarat University. "My previous postings have always been closer to home," says Vasava, who is the mother of two sons in their early 20s. "Now that the children are grown up, I thought why not take up a post that would help push the envelope," she adds. As we join her on the train, shadowing her briefly till Borivli, where the train makes a quick stop before heading for Vapi, she reminds us, as is her wont, to carry a ticket for the journey. It's only when the train leaves the platform that Vasava begins work. "I don't want to alert the passengers, or else, fearing a fine, they might just try and jump off the train. Our job is to fine them, not to cause accidents," she says.
Much to our surprise, her very first passenger on the AC coach is found travelling without a reservation. "You can spot them easily. It's their body language, which is a give away," Vasava tells us. It takes almost 15 minutes of haggling with the passenger, who blames the unavailability of the railway conductor on the platform for not getting a reservation, before he agrees to pay the fine of R645. In the meantime, Vasava, who sees through his lie, also calls upon the conductor to intervene and shift him to the general compartment. When the passenger refuses to leave the AC coach — his argument that he was paying the fine — Vasava herself leads him to the general compartment, sternly informing him that a seat would only be given, if and when it's available.
In a similar fashion, she takes on other passengers, but at no point, loses her cool. When a railway staff tries to make small talk, she doesn't indulge him. "I am here to supervise them. If I were to be friendly, it would be difficult to get work done," she says. As the express halts at Borivli, Vasava leads us to the door. With her day off on Friday, she is already excited about going home and spending time with family. "Once I enter my house, I become a grihini (homemaker). There, my life is revolves around my family and kitchen," she says.
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