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Indian Railways! The word alone conveys the colossal grandeur of the Indian economy. Indian Railways is one of the world’s busiest and oldest railway networks, carrying around 3.52 billion passengers and 1512 MT of freight in 2023. The railway is appropriately referred to as India’s lifeblood because it operates around 13,000 trains every day, serving 7,325 stations across the country and employing many people.
To keep this vast machine functioning well, the Railway introduced the Amrit Bharat Station Scheme, which aims to rejuvenate 1309 stations across the country. The weekend saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi lay the basis for redeveloping 508 railway stations around the country as part of the project. The government has allocated approximately Rs 24,470 crore for the project.
These are the stations:
- 55 in Uttar Pradesh.
- 55 in Rajasthan.
- 49 in Bihar.
- 44 in Maharashtra.
- 37 in West Bengal.
- 34 in Madhya Pradesh.
- 32 in Assam.
- 25 in Odisha.
- 22 in Punjab.
- 21 in Gujarat.
- 21 in Telangana.
- 20 in Jharkhand.
- 18 in Andhra Pradesh.
- 18 in Tamil Nadu.
- 15 in Haryana.
- 13 in Karnataka.
Objectives of Amrit Bharat Station Scheme
1. The objective of this effort is to improve station facilities by introducing modern amenities like roof plazas and city centres. It also plans to construct “a sufficient number of toilets,” “divyangjan amenities,” escalators, more pleasant and long-lasting waiting hall furniture, and free Wi-Fi.
2. The Railways is also creating Master Plans that include both sides of the city. This integrated strategy is inspired by the city’s holistic vision of urban development centered on the train station. High-level platforms (760-840 mm) are planned for all station categories. The platforms would be 600m long on average, according to the plan.
3. In addition, the strategy plans to construct “Executive Lounges and places for small business meetings” in train stations.
4. It also recommends enlarging roads, removing unnecessary structures, properly designed signs, dedicated pedestrian pathways, well-planned parking locations, additional lighting, and other measures to ensure seamless access.
Opponent’s critics on Amrit Bharat Station Scheme
A human rights organisation has identified flaws in the Amrit Bharat Station Scheme. The Freedom of Movement Coalition (FMC), which advocates for transportation fairness and parity, has cautioned the Railway Ministry and Prime Minister Gati Shakti to spend Rs 24,470 crore on infrastructure that everyone, including those with disabilities, can use. The migration also highlighted inadequacies in the documentation for new and old infrastructure.
In a news release, FMC noted that present plans for station rehabilitation under the Amrit Bharat Station Scheme (ABSS) lacked gaps and erroneous reasoning. It further claimed that the station’s forthcoming refurbishment will be unsafe and ineffective.
Amrit Bharat Station Scheme is now in violation of India’s Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, which requires accessibility compliance (parts 44-46 and section 15 of the RPDA Rules), despite the fact that the deadline for retrofitting ageing infrastructure and services has already past. According to the FMC press release, “new procurement will be guided by the Harmonised Guidelines and Standards for Universal Accessibility in India.”
In a recent letter, FMC urged the Railway Board to prioritise the revision of Amrit Bharat Station Scheme papers. Specification of compliance standards against the appropriate station, changes in FOB orientation, and adjustments in lifts and escalators are some of the requests.
A ramping level change solution is required for emergency evacuation and anticipated mechanical issues. Similarly, a covered FOB may be a pleasant luxury for ordinary passengers, but in poor weather, the protected route represents a safety issue for passengers with locomotor disabilities,” the letter added. Furthermore, the letter urged the Railway Board to fill gaps in the document ‘Guidelines on the accessibility of Indian railway stations and amenities at stations for differently-abled individuals and travellers with restricted mobility,’ which was released in November 2022.
More importantly, FMC strongly supported the commissioning of a pre-project access audit and a pre-inauguration access assessment with consultants.
The pre-construction access audit will result in precise design drawings that address current difficulties confronting disabled travellers. “A similar access audit report should be conducted following redevelopment, with compliance findings forming part of the Commissioner of Railway Safety’s inspection and clearance for the inauguration,” according to the letter.
Let’s hope to get the best for Indian Raiways in this Amrit Kaal.