Modernised railway stations is something Indians have been long promised but it remains a pipe dream. Hopes were raised, yet again, in February when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that 600 railway stations across the country had been picked for modernisation. All a part of the whopping Rs 1.48 trillion allocation to the railways - the highest ever for the sector - in the Modi government's last Budget before the next general elections.
But then one remembered that a year earlier, then Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had launched the first phase of what the ministry called the "World's largest Station Redevelopment Program", comprising 23 major railway stations. The idea was to redevelop the stations through the public-private-partnership (PPP) model, where the railways will provide approximately 140 acres of encroachment free land to the developers on a 45 year lease and hence the project would generally be cost neutral to the Railways. Moreover, according to a statement from the ministry at the time, the Rs 1 lakh crore program would benefit more than 100 cities and 16 million passengers per day across the country.
Things did not quite pan out that way due to muted private investor interest. Undeterred, the Railways recently came out with a list of 68 stations earmarked for a facelift through its own resources before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The cost is pegged at Rs 5,000 crore. "We can't wait for private investors anymore. We'll redevelop these stations on our own and could monetise them later through commercial exploitation," a top rail ministry official earlier told The Economic Times.
The new list includes some of the busiest stations in the country like the Old Delhi railway station, Guwahati, Howrah, Patna, Allahabad, Udaipur, Haridwar, Pune, Bengaluru, Ambala, Chennai Egmore and Bhubaneshwar.
The redevelopment plan has reportedly been assigned to the zonal railways with a one year deadline for completion. According to the daily, all the shortlisted railway stations will get state-of-the-art amenities, including elevators, swanky waiting room, a modern passenger announcement system, new platforms, shopping complex and airport-like entry and exit. The redevelopment will be closely monitored by the general managers of the respective zones and the divisional railway managers.
"While doing this (redevelopment), efforts would be made to showcase local culture or history to reflect in the station facade. For instance Aurangabad station is to be developed on lines of Ajantha or Ellora, Agra station is to be developed on lines of Taj Mahal, Ujjain station is to be developed on lines of Mahakaleshwar temples," the ministry said in a statement in March.
Apart from the 68 stations announced by the Railways, the redevelopment of the Habibganj railway station in Madhya Pradesh and the Gandhinagar railway station in Gujarat are already racing towards completion and seem on course to meet the December 2018 and January 2019 deadlines, respectively.
These two stations have hogged the headlines of late given the impressive list of features they will pack. In case you missed the buzz, the Habibganj station will have a large waiting area comprising over 600 benches with neat and clean toilets and commercial hubs. Of the total Rs 450 crore allocated for the redevelopment of the Habibganj railway station, Rs 100 will be spent on improving the infrastructure, while the rest of the amount will be spent on building glass structures and facilities for food, entertainment, and the waiting area. The Indian Railway Stations Development Corporation Ltd. (IRSDC) is also working on other ideas like installing video game zones and virtual museums to make the station more passenger-friendly and commercially viable.
The Gandhinagar railway station, scheduled to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in January 2019, is a special purpose vehicle (SPV) between the IRSDC and the Gujarat government. Around Rs 250 crore have been allocated for its redevelopment and the centre of attraction here will be a 300-room 5-star hotel built 22 metres above the ground, while the railway track will pass underneath it.
That apart, the National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC) is also involved with the government's station redevelopment plan, with 10 stations on its plate, including Tirupati, Puducherry, Lucknow and Kota. So, if things go to plan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team will be able to showcase as many as 80 upgraded railway stations among their achievements during the upcoming elections.
(With PTI inputs)