Railway station becomes temporary home for many
Standing in a queue outside the ticket booking counter at the New Delhi Railway Station for nearly three hours, Mithun Chaudhary and Mohammad Sanaullah have different expectations when they make it to the front of the line. While Chaudhary is desperate to get a train ticket to his hometown in Bihar, Sanaullah wants a refund on a ticket for a train that was cancelled.
Both of them are finding it difficult to survive in the city and are unsure if their long wait in the queue will be fruitful.
It is Sanaullah’s third visit to the counter in three days—to seek a refund on a ticket he had booked for a train to Kolkata that got cancelled. “The last two times when my turn arrived, I was told that there was no cash at the counter. The ₹1,800 cash will help me feed my family for a few more days,” Sanaullah, who worked at a bag manufacturing unit, said.
Chaudhary is a street food vendor who wants to return to his hometown in Bihar since he hasn’t been able to earn anything during the lockdown. “I brought the last of my savings with me to book a ticket, but there are no confirmed seats till June 21,” Chaudhary said.
Ever since May 22, when the railways allowed the resumption of physical ticket booking at some counters in the city, several people have been facing the same issues Chaudhary and Sanaullah have at the ticket booking centre at the New Delhi railway station.
The tickets that are being booked at the counters are for journeys beginning June 1—when 100 pairs of trains will begin service from Delhi stations. People can cancel all tickets booked before and during the lockdown.
STAYING PUT OUTSIDE THE STATION
While those seeking refunds have been returning to the booking centre day after day because of the absence of cash at the counters, many of those with confirmed tickets have been living outside the station itself—under trees along the footpath.
Vijay Vishwakarma, a factory worker from Mangolpuri who was allegedly kicked out of his home for not paying rent, landed at the railway station on Wednesday. “I thought I would immediately find a train to Pratapgarh, but the ticket is for June 2. My wife and I plan to stay here till then since we don’t have a home anymore,” Vishwakarma said.
Many people seeking train tickets have arrived with all their luggage and plan to wait around even if it takes days. “We couldn’t find a place on the Shramik trains. But my friends and I are wait-listed on a train to Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh on June 5. If we go back to Narela, we could get stuck there. So, we will spend our time under a tree the next few days,” Kuldeep Singh, a factory worker, said.
Deepak Kumar, the chief spokesperson of Northern Railways, said that the rush is likely to slow in June. “Most people are waiting for trains to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Once we begin the additional 100 pairs of trains, much of the rush will clear and people are likely to get confirmed seats,” Kumar said.
NO CASH FOR REFUNDS
But the queues at the booking counter are leading to more people cancelling tickets than booking them. And that, Kumar said, is leading to people not getting their refunds.
For many, the refund amount is substantial and their key to survival for the next few days. “I had bought tickets worth ₹1,600 before the lockdown. If I get that money back, it will help me survive for at least two more weeks,” Mohammad Dilshad said on Thursday, during his fourth attempt in four days to get a refund.
“Each time they asked me to return the next day,” he said.
The railway spokesperson acknowledged the problem of shortage of cash and said the problem was on its way to being solved. “Whatever money is received in train bookings is used to issue refunds. But because of the lockdown, people are booking tickets online. That has led to a shortage of cash at some counters,” Kumar said.
Now, money is being withdrawn from banks and sent to the booking counters to issue a refund. “In the past 4-4 days, bank holidays and the weekend added to the problem. Now that is getting sorted out,” Kumar added.