Rrrrring! It is 6 am. I curse my alarm, have a shave, shower and shampoo and hop onto the auto to my destination. I arrive two hours before the appointed opening time. However, I am not alone. There are serpentine queues all around. I am exasperated. I go to the first person in the queue and ask him “Sir, when did you come to be first in the line?” He triumphantly says “Yesterday night at 9 pm!” I am not sure whether to admire his fortitude or despise my laziness.


I take along look around me and am dismayed. Some of the queue-ees are half-asleep on newspaper sheets (ubiquitous Indian habit of recycling newspapers); others are standing and looking into the distance; a few are playing cards and other activities galore. Suddenly there are shouts of “saale ko andar ghusne mat do,” “aey bhaisaab, yeha se nikal jayiye”! The lone policeman comes, takes a look around, and brandishes his lathi to strike fear into the queue-breakers. Most of the queue-ees are happy, another attempt at intrusion has been foiled!

For those of you who frequent railway ticket booking centres, these set of events will not come as a surprise! It wouldn’t have to me as well, but for my forays into economics and public policy. Standing there looking at the queues abounding, people coming in about 12 hrs early only to make sure a place in the queue for a railway ticket. And this must have been happening for the last more than 50 years. Reservation forms have to be fought/ searched for, information on trains is woefully inadequate.

My friend, for whose sake I accompanied and whose work has nothing to do with public policy, remarked “I wish I had a private train!” I laughed heartily at the outrageous suggestion and dipped back into my reading of Governance and the Sclerosis that has Set in by Arun Shourie.

But I can’t help trying to understand these queues, queue-ees and the reasons & consequences of these queues. Queues are an allocative mechanism of providing goods/ services on a first-come/ first serve basis. They are an outcome of shortages in the particular market of goods. Since government regulations prohibit free play of prices of these goods and indulge in price-ceilings, the only way to allocate them is through queues. Thus these tickets may have a lower monetary cost but their cost of time is unaccounted in terms of queuing arrangements, changes in plans to suit unavailability of tickets etc.


Post Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.

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Naveen Mandava

Naveen is Co-Founder at XamCheck, an organization that partners with schools, supporting them in processes they follow, with learning materials and processes that are all crafted to work together as an interconnected system to drive learning. He is a Doctoral Fellow from RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, United States of America. He has worked extensively on assessment based decision support for governments, non-profit organizations and schools chains in India and the USA for over 10 years. He has been a Lead Consultant with the World Bank’s Innovations for Poverty Action Consortium, a Policy Analyst with RAND Corporation and a Research Manager at Centre for Civil Society.