Passengers are complaining of high fares, vendors about notebandi’’, everyone about trains running late—the railway station is far from a happy place.
Pointing to a few people busy cleaning the New Delhi railway station and giving parts of it a fresh coat of paint, an elderly gentleman smirks, “Any idea why this is being done?” He goes on to inform that the cleaning up was in preparation of the Budget Day, when traditionally TV crews descend to shoot stock footage.
True, this time the Railways will only be a part of the Union Budget and there is speculation how much time and attention it will receive from the Finance Minister. But the elderly gentleman, a retired Railway employee himself, is sure that Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu must be a much relieved man. Things, he suggests, have gone downhill in the last two years and either the Government is gearing up to announce radical reform (an euphemism for privatisation) or give it one more year to collapse on its own.
But aren’t people enthused about Bullet trains?
“Bullet train se kya hoga ? I am not able to get a ticket for Gwalior,” retorts a visibly irritated passenger, Raju. “I do not have any blanket or bed sheets; where should I go?” he asks anxiously, not interested in discussing the Indian Railways.
Shiv Singh runs a tea stall inside Nizamuddin Railway station. Business is down, he says, after Notebandi and late running of trains is the last straw. He wryly points to a sign saying ‘Wi-fi available here’ and shrugs, his silence more eloquent that anything he could have said.
‘People buy books and magazines when they are relaxed and have time at their disposal,” says Sanjeev who owns the magazine stall at Nizamuddin. Why would they buy magazines when they are already so stressed, he asks.
Prabhu ki leela wahi jane ; par tweet karne se train time se thodi na chalegi” (Only the lord (Prabhu) knows what he is up to; but trains certainly will not run on time by his tweets).Passenger at Anand Vihar station
Conditions have worsened even in the New Delhi Railway Station, which is not too far from Rail Bhavan, claim passengers waiting for various trains.
“Bihar bound trains are the worst when it comes to amenities and services,” says one. “Waiting halls for sleeper class are always full,” complains another.
“There is an executive lounge run by a private company with comfortable sofa, TV, good food and recliners but prices are too high,” offers a third one. It costs ₹150 there, it seems, for a shower and ₹1,500 or so to spend five hours in airconditioned comfort.
But the New Delhi Railway Station does not have ramps. And both elderly passengers and even coolies wonder how much money it takes to provide ramps. The station, ironically, has four escalators connecting four out of the 16 platforms. More money is to be made by installing escalators rather than ramps, quips a bemused onlooker.
Salim has been working as a coolie for the last 10 years and claims that he has never seen trains running so late as in the past two and a half months. Every train, he claims, has been running 6-8 hours late, barring the Rajdhani and the Shatabdis. There are not too many passengers willing to hire their services, it seems, and late trains are adding to their woes, possibly forcing some of them to charge more.
He is supported by Magan at Anand Vihar Railway Station. At 1 pm on Tuesday, he claimed that he had been there since 4 am but was yet to earn anything. Wasim Khan cribs about notebandi and says that often coolies are being offered a ₹2,000 currency note.
“There is an executive lounge run by a private company with comfortable sofa, TV, good food and recliners but prices are too high,” offers a third one. It costs ₹150 there, it seems, for a shower and ₹1,500 or so to spend five hours in airconditioned comfort. But the New Delhi Railway Station does not have ramps. And both elderly passengers and even coolies wonder how much money it takes to provide ramps.
Lakhvindar, an auto driver from Muzaffarpur, agrees that he too is losing out on custom because trains are running late.
“I have to pay ₹300 every day as rent for the auto but I am actually earning barely ₹200-300 every day. How do I survive? ” App-based taxi services like Ola and Uber have also affected them badly, he concedes.
Sunil Sharma, looking anxiously for the platform number of a train, complains, “You cannot get a confirmed ticket in times of emergency. I had to pay double the price for a confirmed ticket. I got the ticket but now I do not how long will it take for the train to leave,” he exclaims in obvious frustration.
Asked if amenities have improved under Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, he quips, “Ghatiya… You cannot go to toilets. Prabhu ki leela wahi jane ; par tweet karne se train time se thodi na chalegi” (Only the lord ( Prabhu) knows what he is up to; but trains certainly will not run on time by his tweets).
Retired Railway employees have been hired to attend to vending machines which sell tickets up to 150 km. On each ticket, these employees receive 5% as commission.
On condition of anonymity one of them said, “It is all show biz. We joined it because we are bored at home. We come for 2 to 3 hours. We are senior citizens and yet we do not get a chair to sit.”