New Delhi: The voice at the other end of the IRTS Setu helpline lacks the formality or the trained precision of a call centre employee. And that is because the helpline is not being managed by people trained in customer care service, but IRTS (Indian Railway Traffic Service) officers of India who have made their way into the much-coveted service after clearing the famed UPSC (Union Public Service Commission).
IRTS Setu is fairly nascent, started only on April 15 as a response to the issues that arose out of the Coronavirus lockdown.
On April 4, a woman from Maharashtra tweeted tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi, "Sir, I have a 3.5 yrs old child suffering from autism and severe food allergies. He survives on Camel Milk and limited qty of pulses. When lockdown started I didn't have enough camel milk to last this long. Help me get Camel Milk or its powder from Sadri (Rajasthan)."
The tweet then set off a chain of events that activated a system that existed already but no one had thought of using it in this way. And finally, 20 litres of frozen camel milk and 20 Kg of camel milk powder was delivered at the Maharashtra resident's doorstep. An IRTS officer, who spoke to PSU Watch on the condition of anonymity, says, "It was then that we realised that there was a gap between the service that was being offered and people to whom we were offering these services because of the lack of an interface. We realised there was a need for a helpline which could guide them through the entire process and help us to facilitate movement of parcels. So, that is the genesis of Setu. And we named it Setu because it was literally born out of an effort to bridge the gap."
Since the lockdown took effect, the Railways had only been operating freight trains. There were a few trains that were started as COVID-special parcel trains on select routes, but people were not aware of its availability. And therefore a group of young IRTS officers came forward to conceptualise and implement a system that could facilitate the movement of just about anything, right from something as huge in quantity as 20 litres of camel milk to something as critical but small in size as a packet of medicines, across the length and the breadth of the country.
"IRTS looks after the entire administration of the Indian Railways, is responsible for operations and business development. So, we thought that we are in the best place to coordinate these movements of goods because we are handling the entire traffic of the Indian Railways. We would be able to not just affix parcels to trains, but also run special, new parcel trains and open up new routes, if required," the source says.
"Initially, we mobilised around 20 of our officer trainees who were undergoing training. And they came forward with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm to man the helpline. One of the IRTS batches running the helpline is a batch that has just finished the foundation course and has entered the service just 3-4 months back. Then there is another batch of officers who are senior to the former by a year. They are on the verge of finishing their training and getting their first posting," says the IRTS officer.
Currently, the helpline is available on call and can be availed by dialling 9025342449. The request can also be made online on Twitter as the team is quite prompt in its response. "People can ring up the helpline and post their query. Our officers will take down the details and it will be forwarded to another officer trainee who is assigned to a particular region. And then they will get back to you with train details for moving your parcel," says the young officer.
"We are as of now open to moving parcels of all sizes, as long as it is from one station to another station. For something very critical as cancer medicines, we also have a facility for getting it picked up at the doorstep and delivered at the doorstep. Apart from a few packets of a critical medicine, we have transported several cartons of masks, sanitizers, raw materials for making masks etc. For example, we have moved several tonnes of masks from Bhilwara to Surat, despite the fact that there was no direct train. So, we are trying to cater to these kinds of logistical issues. We have moved ventilators from Mumbai to Patna," says the source.
In addition, the service is also connecting farmers to markets as it has also been moving perishable goods. The source says that farmers, who are in distress because of being unable to sell off their produce, can reach out and get their produce moved to demand areas.
The young IRTS officer then recalls that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said in his speech on April 14, "Vayam Rashtre Jaagriyam" and adds that it's a special coincidence that one of the IRTS institutes has the same as its motto.