That there is chaos is not news anymore. If New Delhi railway station is one of the busiest and biggest on the Indian Railways network, it is only in terms of problems and filth.
It's time the Railways loosened its purse strings to give the station its due. Decongestion of the complex and augmentation of basic passenger facilities are the keys to putting the station back on track.
A couple of years ago, the railways felt an investment of Rs. 12,000 crore was needed to upgrade the station. But that has been forgotten because of "objections". Now, there is budget of Rs. 250 crore for improvement projects.
"That's a huge climbdown. This is peanuts. If there are objections, there's no need to carry out massive commercial development. But what we can do is — and for that we need funds — is complete separation of the arrival and departure areas. There must be flap gates to allow regulated and one-way traffic of people," said a former chairman of the Railway Board.
Every passenger is among the harassed lot and has a different problem to share. They find the parking area a free-for-all. That, too, only for 500 cars. Many corners of the station lack basic sanitation. Archana Arora, 47, a businesswoman from Jabalpur, said, "There's no space for you to wait for your train."
Roman, a tourist from Russia, said touts are scary. Shikha Sarkar said, "I always find it difficult to manoeuvre the stairs to catch the Rajdhani Express to Howrah." But this 55-year-old arthritic resident of Vasant Vihar does not have many options. Of the 16 platforms, only three — 16, 14-15 on the Ajmeri Gate side and platform no. 1 on the Paharganj side — have escalators.
Railways' mega upgrade plan was shelved because Delhi's land-owning agencies objected that the work will put pressure on the already chaotic Connaught Place. But former railway board officials feel that cannot be an excuse as passenger facilities can always be augmented with substantial budgetary provisions.
However, for every problem big budget is not the only constraint. There are several minor irritants that can be taken care of with a little better management.
"Most porters charge exorbitantly and you cannot fight with them," said Chandan Singh, a passenger who recently came to Delhi from Buxar in Bihar. Touts is another issue. Both can be tackled with greater vigilance on part of the security personnel.
Arun Kumar, 54, a resident of east Delhi, said, "Your wait in the queue to get information never ends. The staff are rude." Akthar Hussain Dar, 22, of Jammu said he could not read Hindi and most of the information was not in English. These issues can be dealt with effectively with minor tweaking and a little training," Dar said.
The Paharganj side, one of the two entry/exit points, another being the Ajmeri Gate side, has its own problems. If you have a train to catch from that side, better keep at least 30 minutes extra in hand before leaving home. Driving through the Paharganj traffic is every motorist's worst nightmare. The road outside the station is always chaotic. "Paharganj side gets only 30 per cent of the total footfall. But this must change," said another passenger.
A nightmare for elderly and disabled people
Manan Taneja (22) Engineering student from Sydney, in Delhi for a wedding
For Manan, an engineering student in Sydney, it was a tough 30-odd minute journey from the Ajmeri Gate entrance to Platform No. 10, where Shatabdi Express to Kanpur was about to depart right on schedule on December 10.
The 22-year-old and his octogenarian wheelchair-bound grandfather had to take a route through the tracks as there are no ramps available.
"It is such a huge inconvenience for people who can't take the stairs. We had to come much earlier and with the help of some of our relatives in Delhi we somehow manoeuvered through the narrow concrete path at the end of the platforms. It's so risky. There should be subways and more escalators." Manan said.
He gushed about the facilities available for people, including the disabled, in his current home in Australia. "At least a basic ramp is required instead of these stairs. For people with heavy luggage, it is a big problem both going down and climbing up," he said.
Touts are out to prey on foreign tourists
Annika Callsen (26) & Niklas Voss (27) Teachers from Kiel, Germany
For this German duo, getting to the international tourist bureau located on the first floor of the Paharganj side of the New Delhi railway station was a nightmare.
"When we tried to enter the station on November 30 to book our tickets to Agra, we were stopped by someone who pretended to be a guard. He informed us that all bookings were done by travel agents and sent us on an autorickshaw to a nearby agent's office. He tried to sell us package deals on private cars to the city and stay in some five star hotels. Then another person led us to another such agent," Annika said.
As they stood with their freshly-purchased train tickets to various destinations across the country, the couple was thankful that they managed to escape the touts. "We met this lady from Munich who, after being misdirected by a similar fake guard, bought a package worth 1,000 Euros. There should be better signage so that people easily know where to go," Niklas said.