In Rajasthan, a railway station run by the people, for the people
India has a number of low-traffic stations where railways has outsourced ticket sales to individuals and does not depute staff, but officials believe Rashidpura Khori stands apart for its of the people, by the people initiative.Updated: Dec 25, 2017 07:59 IST
After a break of two years, wheels are turning again in Rajasthan’s Rashidpura Khori, one of the most unique railway stations in India.
The station in Sikar district is as nondescript as hundreds that dot the nearly 120,000 km rail track network across the country, but it is run and maintained solely by villagers and not railway staff.
India has a number of low-traffic stations where railways has outsourced ticket sales to individuals and does not depute staff, but officials of North Western Railway zone believe their Rashidpura Khori stands apart for its of the people, by the people initiative.
“I am not aware of any other station that is being run by such participation of people,” says Tarun Jain, chief public relations officer of North Western Railway.
Top railway officials in Delhi did not commit on record to this uniqueness, but said it was likely Rashidpura Khori was one of a kind.
On December 9, a passenger train rolled into Rashidpura Khori, about 125 km north of Jaipur, and rail operations resumed after being stopped in November 2015 for work to broad gauge the track.
Almost 90 years old, the station has had a stop-start history. Railways stopped operations at the British-era station — dating back to 1929, when it was part of princely Jaipur state — in May 2005 as it was deemed commercially unviable.
“This happened due to meagre passenger load,” says Jagdish Burdak, a member of Sikar Rail Salahkar Samiti.
“Before operations stopped, five trains between Jaipur and Churu and one between Sikar and Churu stopped at the station.”
Nearly 25,000 residents of three villages — Palthana, Rashidpura and Khori — that rely on the station were disheartened, but kept appealing to railway authorities to continue services in some manner.
The railways relented, but with conditions. Villagers could keep Rashidpura Khori functional if they managed to generate adequate revenue.
“This adequate revenue was deemed to be Rs 40,000 per month,” says Pratap Singh Burdak, a government school principal and resident of Palthana, whom villagers credit for taking their voice to railway authorities.
“We gave a memorandum (to railways) that the 25,000 residents would run the station and meet the target. The officials agreed to temporary three-month stoppage for one train from January 2009,” Singh adds.
The villagers grabbed the offer and formed a committee to motivate people to use the train.
“We collected Rs 5 lakh from villagers and used the money to publicise train schedules. A vehicle was used for a door-to-door campaign seeking people’s cooperation in meeting the monthly target. People responded enthusiastically,” recalls Singh. “The initial enthusiasm to make the project viable for the railways saw villagers buy even multiple tickets and ensure no one travelled ticketless.”
The temporary arrangement turned into a longer than expected victory of sorts for the villagers as they took charge.
A villager was designated to sell tickets, the rest joined hands to maintain the station. Over time, four more trains got stoppage at Rashidpura Khori.
By the time broad gauge work necessitated stalled operations again, the villagers had sustained their station for more than seven years.
After the restart earlier this month, Mahendra Kumar of Palthana village is the designated ticket seller. Kumar, who teaches in a local private school, operates under a tree with a small wooden chest holding tickets in slots to different stations.
He buys the tickets from Sikar station and earns 15% commission on sales.
A ticket to Laxmangarh, the nearest to Rashidpura Khori , or Sikar costs Rs 10 and one to Churu costs Rs 20. Bus fares to the same locations are up to three times higher.
“Without the train, government employees, army personnel, students, farmers, milkmen and many others faced problems and relied on buses,” says principal Singh.
Farmer Siddharth Singh of Palthana says, “Without the train, it becomes difficult to ferry vegetables to Sikar, a large agriculture and onion centre.”
Karan Singh, an ex-armyman from Khori, says many active services personnel from the region use the train to travel to Sikar and onwards to Delhi.
An onion mandi is proposed at Sikar. Railway officials say if passengers and commercial activity increase, more trains could stop at Rashidpura Khori.
First Published: Dec 25, 2017 07:58 IST