Chandigarh railway station: Third class or world class?
The redevelopment project of the Chandigarh railway station as a world class facility has been delayed, but why are passengers being denied even the most basic of conveniences?
Nine years ago the then city MP, Pawan Kumar Bansal, had said it would take a minimum of five years for Chandigarh Railway Station to get a world class tag, no one had thought it would take so long to get the project off the ground.
Even now, redevelopment work is nowhere near completion and the deadline for it to achieve world class status is likely to take more than two years, going by the recent announcement of Sudip Bandyopadhyay, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways.
It’s not going to be an easy task. The station currently has just one washroom for general category passengers and two for those with reserved seats; and that too in not very good shape. Security is lax, with no luggage scanners or checks and no food as the cafe is closed.
The entrance to the station from the Chandigarh side gets jammed with taxis and autos when trains come in as their movement is restricted to a very narrow lane.
How soon the work will start is anybody’s guess. The Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation Limited (IRSDC), responsible for the development work, has also extended the date of the opening of engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) tenders from May 30 to June 22 .The estimated cost has been fixed at ₹140 crore approximately. The work will technically begin from August 1, to be continued in nine phases.
The commercial development of land on the Panchkula side will be taken up alongside.
Since 2013, when the Ambala division had submitted a proposal to Northern Railways for development of the station and Bansal had said that the project will be studied comprehensively taking into account the mode, financial model and facilities, the project has been hanging fire for several reasons. One of them is acquisition of land. The railway authorities had asked for 5 lakh sq ft of land from the UT authorities for the development project but just 2.5 lakh sq ft was sanctioned. Apart from that, here are some problems that passengers face currently, that authorities should have no problems resolving.
Lack of security: With non-functional metal detectors and no luggage scanners, security arrangements at the station are woefully inadequate.The station remains open from all sides and security personnel are conspicuous by their absence except when there’s a terror alert. Since the last one month, even the metal detectors have gone missing from the entrance to the station at platform number 1. The 39 CCTV cameras installed, usually under warranty for a maximum of five years, have not been replaced in nine years.
Washroom woes: Surprisingly, for a railway station with six platforms, only one washroom on platform number 1 has been allocated for general passengers. To others are meant for reserved category passengers in the retiring room of upper class passengers. Passengers also complain that soaps and hand wash lotions are not available.
No cafeteria IRCTC cafeteria has remained closed for over a year. No initiative has been taken to get the tender floated for the same.
Missing golf cart In 2015, the station got an electric golf cart operated by IRCTC to ferry commuters free of cost on the platforms, but it disappeared within six months.
No ATMs for emergencies Three ATMs near the reservation office remain closed because of non-renewal of contract.
No executive lounge The executive lounge inaugurated two years ago remains locked despite endless complaints on social media. No information is provided near the lounge telling passengers what to do to get it opened.
Vacant parking The parking space right opposite the parcel office, earlier used for parking of two-wheelers has been lying vacant for a year.
No baby food Parents of young children will be left in the lurch as there in so baby food available at the only railway station canteen on platform number one.
No stalls Last year, all tea stalls and book stalls were closed because of a change in policy.
Unauthorised taxis The problem of unauthorized taxi has been a major bone of contention between the taxi union and railway authorities.
The other side The second entry to the Chandigarh railway station from Panchkula has been in terrible shape. No facilities have been created for passengers apart from a small building used as a ticket counter. There are no washrooms, no benches, no retiring rooms, no eatery. Even a section of the shed over the platforms are missing.
One wonders when the facilities will be put in place because according to the development plans work on the station is supposed to start from the Panchkula side.
RK Dutta, former station superintendent said, “We talk about making the station a world class when the basic amenities are missing including washrooms and then the poor infrastructure at the Panchkula entrance. It has been a joke at the railway station that since 2006, no single divisional railways manager has been able to make provision of an additional washroom at the station, where 15,000 passengers visit every day. They could have easily made small bathrooms for the passengers.”
Station director Hari Deep said, “Since the inception of the Chandigarh Railway Station, it’s for the first time that the Railways have decided to designate a station director here. His duties include coordination among the wings of the Ambala division railways, better services at the station, cleanliness updates, upkeep of the passenger amenities, and direct complaint redressal.It has been six months since he took charge of the station.”
‘During my tenure I had also felt helpless’
I had planned a much bigger project than what’s happening now. The station was to have shopping complexes and hotel. I suppose they are not going ahead with the plans because the Chandigarh administration did not approve it. Our plan was to have a multilevel parking and an automated one. I am not an expert but I had this idea of having an elevated road coming right up to the first floor, like an airport. Lounges, sitting areas, shopping complex were part of the plan, with the platforms on the ground floors. People would remain on the first floor and walk down three minutes before announcement of departure. I also planned automated shutters, such that no one could fall on the tracks.
During my tenure, I had appointed consultants for this work. I hope they do something now. I only wish this work gets done in the speculated time. Let us not be skeptical about this.Even smaller things take time for approvals and clearances. During my tenure, I had also felt helpless.