The parliamentary standing committee on railways recently looked at the issue of passenger amenities and recommended various corrective measures. Data shared by the government indicates that the number of complaints regarding the shortage of passenger amenities in railways more than doubled between 2015-16 & 2017-18.
The Standing Committee on Railways submitted its report on ‘Passenger Amenities including Modernisation of Railway Stations’ in February 2021. Modernization or up-gradation of railway stations has been undertaken under various schemes such as Model Station Scheme, Modern Station Scheme and Adarsh Station Scheme. The Model Station Scheme was in existence from June 1999 to November 2008. The Modern Station Scheme was launched in 2006-07 and remained functional up to 2007-08. In the year 2009, the Adarsh Station Scheme was launched and recently, stations are being upgraded under this scheme.
Categorization of Railway Stations
The Railways classifies railway stations into various categories for prioritizing the provisioning of passenger amenities. The standing committee report elaborates that the categorization of railway stations is reviewed every five years. In 2012, for providing the amenities in an objective manner, stations on Indian Railways were classified into seven categories based on the annual passenger earnings of 2011-12 from passenger traffic at the stations. The classification is given in the table below.
In 2017-18, Railways classified stations further based on;
- Outward passengers handled at the station
- The annual yield of passenger earnings.
Stations were thus clubbed into 3 groups i.e. (i) Non-Suburban Grade (NSG), (ii) Suburban Grade (SG), and (iii) Halt Grade (HG). Passenger amenities at stations are provided in accordance with the category of each station. The scale of amenities provided at each category of stations have been notified and is also placed on the Indian Railways’ Website.
The Standing Committee, in its 2013 report, recommended that Railways should also consider the following parameters for deciding the relative importance of stations:
- Historical and cultural importance
- Geographical location, and
- Proximity to industrial hubs, ports, agricultural production centres, educational and professional institutions.
The present Committee report noted that this recommendation has not been incorporated by the Railways.
What is the status of Passenger Amenities?
Passenger amenities are provided at the time of construction of new railway stations based on the anticipated volume of traffic. These amenities are further augmented from time to time with growth in passenger traffic handled at stations, based on the felt need, expectations of the traveling public, and availability of funds, as described in the Committee Report.
According to the Committee Report, the passenger amenities have been classified into three categories viz.
- Minimum Essential Amenities (MEA)
- Recommended Amenities and
- Desirable Amenities.
On-board minimum amenities include internal fittings such as lighting, fan, comfortable seats and toilets and external fittings like display board, reservation charts, etc.
The Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) in their Report (No. 13 of 2016 – Union Railways Compliance Audit) revealed that out of 436 stations, drinking water taps were not provided at 86 stations as per the norms prescribed by the Railway Board in its instructions of September 2012. At several stations, water taps were found choked and appeared very shabby. Water taps at suitable locations to serve passengers of General and 2nd class were not provided at 28 stations of the ‘D’ category; 39 stations of the ‘E’ category and 37 stations of the ‘F’ category. In response to this, the Ministry informed the Committee that Minimum Essential Amenities (MEA) have been revised and fresh guidelines have been issued in April 2018. Water taps are being provided at stations as per norms and deficiencies are being rectified as and when noticed, as per the response of the government.
Apart from drinking water facilities, the audit report also highlighted that Foot Over Bridge (FOB) of prescribed size had not been provided at several stations, platform shelters were not provided as per norms at various stations including shade trees at F category stations, and deficiencies were noticed in providing desirable amenities at various categories, viz. cloakrooms, enquiry counter, provisions of urinals, water coolers, lighting arrangements, ATMs, Train Coach Indicator System, etc.
Underutilisation of funds for passenger amenities
The Committee report details the budget allocated for passenger amenities for the last five years. These numbers are indicated in the chart below.
Hence, the funds earmarked for passenger amenities were underutilized by: 16.3% in 2014-15, 38.2% in 2015-16, 4.3% in 2018-19 and 44.4% in 2019-20.
The Committee recommended that the Railways prepare a realistic budget so that financial and physical targets are optimally achieved. The Committee also observed that Railways has not been able to utilize funds from Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLAD) and funds provided by Indian Oil Corporation Limited as an initiative under its corporate social responsibility activities. These funds are provided for the installation of amenities at railway stations. The Committee observed that a robust monitoring mechanism for ensuring maintenance and upkeep of assets created for passenger facilities is absent. This has led to a regular breakdown of such assets and caused inconveniences to passengers.
A Lok Sabha answer from March 2018 highlights the zone-wise number of complaints regarding the shortage of passenger amenities.
The zone-wise number of complaints have steadily risen over the last few years. In terms of overall numbers, the number of complaints regarding the shortage of passenger amenities have more than doubled from 2015-16 to 2017-18.
Another Lok Sabha answer from 2017 highlights the constitution of the Passenger Amenities Committee (PAC), a statutory Organization body under the Ministry of Railways, Government of India. The PAC conducts regular inspections of railway stations. The committee also conducts meetings with field officers to discuss the areas of concern and provides recommendations. According to this Lok Sabha answer, a Passenger Amenities Committee was constituted in March 2016. It inspected 136 stations along with trains in 26 inspections during the period from March 2016 to November 2016.
Specific Recommendations made by the Committee
The committee recommended an increased number of water taps at stations, improvement in the level of cleanliness, more mobile charging points in coaches, need to remove encroachments, need to improve the number of general coaches in trains, improvement of parking areas, etc. for the convenience of the passengers. The suggestions are referred to concerned Zonal Railways for taking corrective action on an urgent basis. The answer notes that the works on recommendations of the Passenger Amenities Committee are undertaken depending upon feasibility, need, and inter-state priority subject to availability of funds. Reportedly, the PAC conducts regular inspections throughout the railway network and provides timely recommendations to the department.
Featured Image: Shortage of passenger amenities in railways