The Delhi Junction railway station located in the older part of the national capital, is a poor advertisement for India’s tourism infrastructure even though it is the gateway to important tourist destinations in Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The crush of human bodies, dirty train tracks, lack of seats on narrow platforms can be an unnerving experience for those, particularly foreigners, taking trains to destinations such as Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer in Rajasthan and Kathgodam and Haldwani in Uttarakhand among others, from where the road to the higher Himalayas start.
A visit to the Old Delhi station this week showed that while the Swachh Bharat campaign is showing positive results on the ground, with the garbage on platforms and the main station building getting regularly cleaned, but the tracks are littered with garbage and human waste, while the platforms look dusty, crumbling and unkempt. So much so, the few shiny escalators that have been erected on the platforms, look completely out of place.
Muhrad, a tourist from Belarus, says that although the Indian railway experience can be enjoyable, it can also be unnerving. “My journey while travelling in the sleeper compartment was uncomfortable but it was a novel experience. Waking up to find three people sitting on my seat while I was asleep was a shock. As for the Old Delhi railway station, it is not what one would except from a capital city’s railway station at all,” observes Muhrad.
Stephanie, from Belgium, had a tough experience too. “I got out of the Chandni Chowk Metro station and entered the Old Delhi railway station to get lost among the crowd. Then I fell on top of a man sitting on the ground as I was trying to make my way through the crowd. I did not know that people were allowed to sit like this inside a station. It was very confusing and overwhelming. Finally when I reached my platform I saw that the train had started and I could board it only because passengers helped me,” she remembers. “There were announcements but they are hardly comprehensible,” says Kate from the United States, who has travelled extensively in India and finds the Old Delhi railway station to be among the worst that she has seen in this country.
The station’s officers have a different take on the situation. “The station is over 150 years old and was initially built to deal with a daily traffic of 50 to 100 people. Over the years it has grown to a 16-platform station and now caters to 235 trains every day. It sees a footfall of up to 3.5 lakh a day. It is natural that the effects of this will show,” says Arun Arora, Divisional Railway Manager, Delhi Division of Northern Railway who took charge in February 2015. The last major renovation of the station took place during the Asian Games in 1982 said a source in the station master’s office.
Arora admitted that squatters pose a major problem for the station authorities, and are also one of the major causes of littering. “You have to consider the people that travel by the trains from here. Many of them belong to low-income groups and cannot afford to stay in hotels. Some of them wait for their trains for hours, and eat and sleep here during that. To tackle the problem, we have increased the number of penalties we impose. The weekly fines for littering has gone up from Rs 8,000-10,000 to Rs 60,000,” Arora said. The station observed a Swachh Bharat cleaning drive in June. The 24-hour drive was carried out by 560 staff members and was surveyed by 40-50 officers. “We managed to clear 20 tons of garbage,” says Arora.
A second entrance, at the back of the station has also been commissioned and the authorities, in order to give that station a facelift, have planned to break down the front wall of the station. This, according to them, will provide a relief to passengers from the congestion.
The fact that premium trains like Rajdhani and Shatabdi do not start from this station has not helped its case.