Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu plans to introduce bullet trains, transform the centuries-old railway system in the country, but a visit to Delhi’s oldest train station built in 1860s, the Old Delhi Station, reveals a tale of neglect and indifference on the part of officials.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be surprised to discover that not far from his office, the National Capital’s main railway station can be in such a state of neglect and apathy. His Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has probably not been understood by railway officials.
One will squirm at the rundown condition of the train station inside an imposing Edwardian façade built by the British on what used to be a Mughal park laid out by Shah Jahan’s daughter, Jahanara Begum.
Though the variety of food from which to choose on trains might have improved, the train station seems to have bypassed the attention of Rail ministry mandarins located around five kilometres from Old Delhi Station. A visit by this reporter was an eye-opener.
In recent days a French delegation visited the New Delhi Station to explore options for restructuring the station and improve infrastructure. While looking at expensive rebuilding works short term solutions or inexpensive answers to basic needs of passengers tend to get ignored. Old Delhi Station is an example of this.
A visit to Old Delhi station is a nightmare and this is why:
1) Access to station building: Every evening, the road in front of the station gets clogged with tourist buses waiting to ferry passengers to neighbouring states. A U-turn by any vehicle to reach the 'in' gate can take up to 30 minutes and if you happen to be a first-time visitor then be prepared to miss the entry gate thanks to the badly-lit road and improper signages or absence thereof.
2) Swach Bharat Abhiyan has no takers here: Rivulets of urine flowing out of badly-maintained toilets flow out onto the path near the side entrance. At any time of the day or night, there is litter in the main reservation hall; plastic packets and wrappers adorn entrances.
3) Security is a non-issue: Installed X-ray machines are inadequate to cater to the large volume of passengers and therefore, bags get scanned but people can just walk through unchecked.
4) No signages: Properly painted or illuminated signs are alien to this station. In any case, they are probably not given attention to by officers who have a retinue of junior staff accompanying them. And since it is not an airport, there seems little concern for the need for proper signages in Hindi and English. The run-down information counter has cardboard pieces with hand written instructions. Unless you are two feet away from it or your eyes can zoom-in on that cardboard piece from a distance, you are likely to miss what’s scribbled on it.
5) Platform tickets: Every year, railways report losses on account of platform tickets but at Old Delhi Station, it is not easy to locate the counter unless you are a conscientious citizen who wants to buy a ticket. This reporter had to ask at least six different people including a security guard and a railway employee and even then, with great difficulty, located yet another handwritten cardboard piece at counter number 10 in Unreserved Ticket System, before he could buy a platform ticket.
6) Rundown look: Unpainted walls as you climb up the escalator, iron grills on the bridge leading to platforms have probably not seen a coat of pain for years, and tin sheets covering the bridge are witness to years of neglect. When you descend the stairs to reach the platform, believe it or not, you actually begin to wonder whether this railway station has any caretakers!
7) Stinking platforms: Enter the platform and you will need superhuman tolerance as you are greeted by a cocktail of overpowering stenches. And, if you are unlucky and the train gets late, then while you try to withstand the stench, you will see unpainted chairs, rusted iron grills and of course, litter.
This reporter has been to the Old Delhi Station on multiple occasions in the past year, but has seen no change. Improvement and change for the better do not necessarily need foreign investments and huge rebuilding plans. They can be achieved through simple interventions like having proper painted signages, by painting iron grills and platform bridge, by outsourcing the clearing of litter to an outside agency, or by having properly-maintained toilets.
Old Delhi Station is nothing short of bad publicity for an earnest and hardworking railway minister like Suresh Prabhu.
And that too, in India’s National Capital of Delhi.
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Updated Date: Jun 13, 2016 08:37:35 IST