Hauling up Indian Railways for “failing to see a hidden treasure in untapped tourist and pilgrims sites potential”, the parliamentary standing committee on railways made some scathing remarks on the “shortsighted vision of the largest transporter.” Indian Railways, including IRCTC, came in for some criticism from the committee for not “augmenting its services to meet tourist and pilgrims demand exclusively.”
Also, “the railways are doing nothing to designate some top religious tourist stations,” says the report, which has asked the largest transporter to connect popular tourist places and link the states with immense religious pilgrim potential first, besides linking Shirdi and Tirupati with more train services.
The committee, chaired by MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay, cautioned the railways ministry not to take the tourism and pilgrimage sector too lightly as “it may prove to be a hidden treasure for railways to increase revenue if explored judiciously.”
The committee noted, “Many tourist/pilgrim destinations are already connected by rail. However, states having high potential for tourism like Jammu & Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, northern Kerala and Northeast states witness minimal presence of railways.” Stressing to lay focused planning to augment train services in the Valley, Northeast states and parts of Central India, the committee feels that “if railways have to increase their revenue, they will have to focus on those areas which possess touristic/historic/religious importance and are not connected by rail.”
The report pointed out that Indian Railways introduced around 600 trains in last five years (2011-16) covering various destinations across the country. But, of these 600, only seven trains have been dedicated for promotion of tourism and pilgrimage. Only two more trains, Tiger Express and Astha Circuit, have been introduced in 2016-17.
The committee also noted that Tirupati and Shirdi, which are the most popular pilgrimage station and attract large number of people, are only connected by two express trains and one weekly special train. Meanwhile, the committee also pulled up the railways for giving freeloaders complimentary tickets to travel in luxury trains. Worse, these luxury Railways trains are running with an occupancy of just 30 per cent or less. The committee members in their report have lamented that the “provision of complimentary travel is continuing on these luxury trains on the recommendation of either Railway Board or IRCTC or state tourism development corporation.”
The railways run five luxury trains, including Maharaja Express, Golden Chariot, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, Deccan Odyssey and Palace on Wheels. The committee says ‘Palace on Wheels’ and ‘Royal Rajasthan on Wheels’, were the favourites of the freeloaders, most of whom had been permitted to travel free by railway top officials. The committee said it was surprised to find that on the Maharaja Express, the Railway Board itself permitted 21 top level railway officers to travel free from 2012 to 2016. The report mentioned 153 people were recommended by the IRCTC for free travel from 2012-2016.
“As a public entity financed by the budget, the railways have no right to misuse the tax payers’ money by providing advances to some people in the form of complimentary travel in these luxury trains,” the committee noted in the report urging the government to “discontinue the system with immediate effect.”