The much-hyped creation of 50 world-class stations on Indian Railways is yet to take off. It is still mostly at study stage and mired in various knotty teething problems. First announced by the then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad in 2004-05 Rail Budget that 22 world-class railway stations would be made and later expanded to 50 such stations by his successor Mamata Banerjee, the plan as such remains still on paper.
The Ministry of Railways has identified world-class stations on Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) mode with a view to harnessing of real estate potential of land around and space above stations without additional cost to the Railways. The entire world-class station projects would be financed through railways real estate development. It would have state-of-the-art station building with good architecture, segregation of arrival/departure of passengers, modern amenities like food plazas, currency exchange counter, tourist information booth, retail outlets, internet cafes, ATM facilities, hotels, car rentals, pre-paid taxi booths and well illuminated circulating area. Besides, various superior amenities like grade separated entry and exit for passengers, wider foot-over-bridges, budget and luxury hotels are envisaged to make passengers comfortable and pleasant.
While no time frame for completion of projects has been fixed, the Railways have taken up appointment of architects and consultants for Ahmadabad, Anand Vihar, Bijwasan, Chandigarh, Chennai, Porbandar, Secunderabad, Sealdah and Surat. It has already appointed architects and consultants for New Delhi and Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly Bombay Victoria Terminus.
No station has so far been developed. New Delhi Station and Mumbai CST are mired in complexities of various clearances. Added to this, development of world-class stations by leveraging the real estate potential of railway land around and air space above stations have over-sensitive issues of traffic congestion, additional traffic, change of land use, in-principle approval of local agencies, shifting of religious structures, fear of local agencies that associated commercial development of land for financing the project and additional traffic generated choking the already congested arterial roads leading to stations, not being supportive of the scheme. Additionally, the issue of preserving heritage of existing stations and the world heritage status of Mumbai CST has to be addressed in consultation with Heritage Conservation Societies at local, national and UNESCO levels.
In addition, approvals of various statutory and local bodies like Town Planning Office, Development Authority, Municipal Authority, Traffic and Transportation Planning Authority, Management Authority, Urban Arts Commission, Archaeological Survey of India, Heritage Committee, Public Utility Departments for water supply, sanitation, electricity supply, irrigation & drainage, Coastal Area Regulation, Fire Department, Directorate General Civil Aviation and so on are to be taken before commencement of the work of world class stations.
It is a matter of concern that not a single station has been developed as a world-class station. When asked, the Ministry of Railways maintains that implementation of this scheme required preparation of Master Plan and feasibility reports first and approval of several local agencies. Such reasoning sound hollow as all such aspects should have been considered during the formulation of scheme in the beginning itself. That would have eased the roadblocks at the initial stage, paving the way for faster implementation.
Delay in the implementation of the world-class stations negates the very objective of this laudable initiative. In the circumstances, Ministry of Railways should take up the scheme in right earnest to benefit passengers and railways.
Meanwhile, out of 196 Multi-Functional Complexes taken up for commercial development of railway land under the aegis of the Railway Land Develop Authority only 21 such complexes have been completed so far. Delay is partly alluded to mandatory requirement of Cabinet approval for all long term leasing of Government (railway) land introduced since March 2011. This is proving a constraint with an adverse effect on provision of enhanced passenger amenities. Besides, a large number of agencies involved in this scheme is proving a further constraint on time bound commercial exploitation of unutilized railway land around stations and air space.
Without all such timely clearances from the relevant authorities, projects like the world-class stations and Multi-Functional Complexes are bogged down in delays and may not take off in foreseeable future!
Indian Railways, a vertically integrated organization, is one of the largest railway systems in the world. It carries about 25 million passengers, 2.5 million tones of freight and runs 19186 trains daily over 64,410-route kilometers. It has a total of 8241 stations that include 2027 Halts. Basic challenge before it is maintenance of passenger amenities and prevention of slippages!