Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Though domestic tourism is supposed to be growing at a frenetic pace due to higher disposable incomes in the hands of middle class population, the necessary infrastructure to provide comforts and pleasure to those traveling across India is woefully short of even the minimum standards expected by the traveling public. Indians are considered as one of the most resilient amongst Asians, taking all shortcomings, discomforts, misery and insecurity in their strides. Whether it is the road transport or train travel or air travel, the hassles in reaching the destination are too many with many uncertainties. The big question is how long such short comings in the system will be tolerated by the citizens without reacting in a more forceful way.

Taking road travel first, most of the bus stations all over the country are is a chaotic state with no systematic consumer friendly operating environment. Wrong locations, faulty designs, disorderly schedules, unfriendly transport operators, garbled and unclear announcements in public address systems, lack of passenger convenient facilities, shortage of seating facilities, unsafe water and foods available, unruly 3 and 4-wheeler taxis all combine to make the life miserable for the travelers. Depending on the food vendors can be risky because of non-standard and unheard of brands only being offered by the 'licensed' shops in these bus terminals. Most foods, including packed foods are non-standard and it is doubtful whether they are safe. No food inspector of the locality ever visits or checks the quality and safety of foods available in the bust stations. No nationally or regionally popular packed foods are 'allowed' to be sold in the premises due to unholy nexus between the transport officials, the vendors and the food safety monitoring personnel. No product is available for less than Rs 10 a pack. There are hundreds of mini packs of foods manufactured by the food industry but these low cost packs varying in price from Re1 to Rs 5 per pack are rarely available in shops located within the premise of bus stations. Packed water is sub-standard, bottled drinks are non-standard, fried foods are of indifferent quality, sugar candy products are invariably spurious and bakery snacks are of dubious quality.

Same is true in many Railway stations across the country. Without the minimum consumer friendly features such as people movers, escalators, comfortable seats, easy entry into the trains in the limited time of halting, clean toilets, safe water, good foods at reasonable rates and baggage handling facilities, train travel can be an exhausting exercise, especially for senior citizens and mothers with young children. The licensed shops that sell water and food invariably stock non-standard and unreliable foods of doubtful safety. It is a tribute to the rugged health of the Indian traveler that no log term consequences of traveling in trains are ever reported. Probably Indian Railways must be feeling smug about its much touted food plaza program which has not made much of a difference to the traveling public though it has generated huge income to them.

As for the air ports, eating joints are mostly of 3 star or above categories, hardly affordable to the air travelers. The assumption is that those travel by air paying sizable amounts can afford to pay stiff prices for the food at the air-conditioned ambiance provided by the airport. But such an attitude should not blind the authorities to the needs of thousands of travelers who want to just eat clean foods without creating a big hole in their pocket! Why not provide some space at low cost to small shops who sell packed dry products and beverages at the MRP, without marring the environment, to those in need of consuming some thing while waiting for their flights?

If this trend continues, time is not too far away, when travelers will start carrying their own water, food and beverages, as was being done during olden days when they start on a long journey. Bus stations and Railway stations must raise the bar as far as licensing is concerned so that only standard brands are sold by these licensees. GOI and State governments must break the unholy nexus between the officials and the dishonest business mafia that seems to be controlling the food outlets in hundreds of stations across the country that makes the public suffer silently and tolerate the ignominy perpetrated on them.


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