A neat-looking hotel stands where the grubby passengers’ inn stood earlier. But frequent train traveller Yogesh Narula has lost it to the rest of the world.
The Rail Yatri Niwas in New Delhi, meant as a reasonably priced hotel exclusively for travellers, has been transformed into a budget hotel with tariffs several times high than what they were before, and access open to all, not just railway passengers.
As Railways Minister Lalu Prasad presents his final budget today, an HT reporter’s train journey from New Delhi to Mumbai, India’s busiest route, resonated with the view that big ticket projects of the Railways are sliding out of reach of ordinary passengers.
The Rail Yatri Niwas, located within the New Delhi railway station complex, is now run by Ginger Hotel, a Tata enterprise.
Earlier, it offered change room and lodging facilities, including dormitories, for the exclusive use of rail travellers at nominal charges, between Rs 50 and Rs 250 per day. In 2006, the Railways leased out the property to Tata Enterprises.
Since the makeover, room tariffs are Rs 1,199 per day, and available on a first-come first-serve basis — with no separate quota for rail passengers.
“Tariffs have been taken beyond the reach of average train passengers,” said Narula, a 38-year-old businessman, who frequently travels here from Jaipur.
The Rail Yatri Niwas properties at other two other locations (Puri and Ranchi) are undergoing similar makeovers under the Public- Private Partnership (PPP) model.
“Facilities meant for the benefit of average rail travellers are being converted into a center that caters to the needs of corporate clients,” said an unnamed blogger on the Indian Railway Fan Club Association (IRFCA) website.
By 2012, the Railways expects to generate Rs 100, 000 crore through extra-budgetary resources for big-ticket projects. But these are designed in a manner to exclude the middle and lower segment of travellers.
Food, for example, is set to get more expensive. The Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) issued tenders for the setting up of Food Plazas at stations in 2006-2007. Failing to generate response at 122 of the 183 identified sites, re-tenders have been issued.
“Re-tendering means that the Railways will have to concede to the contractor’s demands for higher pricing of food articles at Food Plazas,” said Mahendra Sharma of the International Transporters Workers Federation (ITWF).
Major projects have also been held up because of departmental rivalries.
In 2006, the Railways announced schemes for the construction of 100 budget hotels and 24 World Class Railway Stations. The two projects have been delayed by over one year because of competing claims over implementation between the Railway Land Development Authority (RLDA) and the IRCTC, according to a parliamentary committee report.