On December 22nd, a woman was forced to deliver her child at the Mangalore Railway Junction (MAJN), after an ambulance failed to reach the remote area due to the narrow roads leading up to it. The 26-year-old woman, identified as Lata, a migrant labourer from Madhya Pradesh, was waiting for the train at the station, when she started experiencing labour pain and repeatedly cried out for help.
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Abubakker, a local rickshaw driver, immediately called 108 emergency services and directed them to the location. However, though the nearest ambulance reached the spot, the vehicle could not drive up to the station because of the approach. Manjunatha, the Emergency Vehicle staff who attended to Lata said, “Before we could reach, the woman had delivered a baby girl. We immediately attended to her and the baby. Both are safe and have been transferred to the Lady Goschen hospital.”
While this story thankfully has a happy ending, there appears to be no end in sight to the woes of passengers at one of the most secluded and neglected railway stations in any city – the Mangalore Railway Junction (MAJN).
A green board resting on the ground against an electric pole near Naguri in Mangalore city reads ‘Way to Mangalore Railway Junction, Railway station. Wishing you a pleasent journey’. Never mind the spelling (‘pleasent’), there are more serious issues at stake here.
The 750-metre stretch of road that leads to the station is so narrow that hardly two vehicles can pass along each other. For bigger vehicles, such as an ambulance or fire engine, navigating the curvy, thin road is no less than a nightmare, and often impossible as the above incident shows. The narrow roads, concretized in part, are unevenly lit with street lights that include some old halogen bulbs, and almost always wear a deserted look, creating an eerie feeling for pedestrians and motorists alike.
“This indeed is one of the most the scariest approach roads to any railway station I have seen so far,” says commuter Rohan Shiri, “even in broad daylight, the route gives an impression as though one is passing through forest area.”
A few metres in, commuters need to navigate a couple of deviations, with no direction boards and unmarked paths. It’s highly unlikely that a newcomer will be able to trace his way smoothly to the station or vice-versa. On several occasions, passengers who have travelled by foot or even in private vehicles have lost their way and ended up knocking at the doors of nearby-residents seeking help. “It is really frustrating for us to answer to passenger query each time, plus we have our own concerns of safety not knowing what the stranger wants,” says one such resident.
Local bus operators admit that the authorities on several occasions have requested them to ply a trip on the route but there are both infrastructural and local pressures against such move, they say.
“The route is very narrow and at certain bends, only one vehicle can pass at a time; therefore, pressing bus services is not possible. Moreover, a few nearby residents have taken to taxi operation or deployed auto services at the station and are against public transport as it would hurt their financial interests,” says a member of the Dakshina Kannada Bus Operators Association.
While the distance from MAJN to the Mangalore City is barely seven kilometres, auto drivers have already earned a notorious reputation of fleecing the customers by charging them exorbitant rates – anywhere between Rs. 150 to Rs.250.
“(There are) no bus facilities to Mangalore City. Pre-paid auto is not functional, auto drivers levy unjustifiable charges and passengers have to pay up or be stranded at the station. This seems to be the result of an unholy nexus between the auto rickshaw drivers and a few railway employees,” said Valasarajan, a traveller.
Meanwhile inside the railway station, passengers continue to wait for the arrival of their respective trains. A train may be delayed, but there is no way for the passenger to know that, since there are hardly ever any announcements over the public address system. Passengers, uncertain and anxious, must take the initiative of personally asking the railway staff at the station about the status of the train’s arrival.
But, perhaps what’s more annoying for waiting passengers is the absence of basic amenities at MAJN. The station lacks clean toilets, a cloak room, adequate security staff and has no ATM, restaurants or even a ladies waiting room! Mangaloreans rue that MAJN station seems to be operating in a parallel universe altogether, far removed from the realities and development of current times.
Damodar Raj, a regular passenger vents, “There is no restroom, no toilets, no eateries and no transportation. The nearest lodging is at least three kilometres away, what would a passenger do if he misses a train or if it is cancelled? Middle class or poor people who usually depend on trains won’t be able to afford unregulated rickshaw-fares, especially at night. They are left to fend for themselves. What are they supposed to do in this isolated station where security is negligible?”
“Most trains arrive here at night; I have seen so many lone women travellers and some with children, uncomfortably resting on bags and benches while waiting. It is essential to have separate rooms for women to ensure safety, or are they waiting for any untoward incident only after which they will find reason to act,” questions another angry passenger Shailaja Kumari.
It is not as if MAJN does not see any traffic. According to railway officials, the routine traffic at MAJN comprises 35 long distance trains such as Rajdhani Express, Garib Rath Express, Matsyagandha, Poorna Express, Mangala Express, Marusagar Express, Kochuveli-Amritsar Express, Thiruvananthapuram-Veravel Express, Coimbatore-Bikaner Express among others. The station witnesses a footfall of approximately 2500 passengers each day.
Both local passengers and tourists have been demanding improvements in public infrastructure at the MAJN for over 15 years now, yet the apathy of the concerned agencies is disturbing. According to station manager Susheel, they have been receiving at least 12 complaints a day at the station, all relating to the absence of facilities and amenities at the station. “There has been a long-standing demand by locals for widening of roads between Naguri and Mangalore junction, government has assured them that it will act on it,” he says.
He also added that the government is looking into the filling of vacancies both at administrative and security departments. At present there are only eight security guards and the station is in dire need of employees in the permanent, technical, commercial and mechanical department.
Flip-flop by government bodies
Ironically, it was just a little over three years ago that local politicians boasted of upgrading MAJN with more connections to the city, Internet kiosks, a shopping complex, passenger amenities and additional railway lines. Right after the 2014 polls, local MP Nalin Kumar Kateel spoke of a Rs 300-crore proposal to develop 60 acres of land around MAJN as a ‘world-class station’; later, however, officials from Southern Railway clarified that no such plans had been brought to their knowledge.
Officials told media that the Kerala Industrial and Technical Consultancy Organisation (KITCO) plan was meant for the counterpart Mangalore Central Railway Station (MAQ) and not for MAJN. MAQ on the other hand, located in the heart of Mangalore City, is anyway relatively better connected and has all the basic amenities for the passengers.
“Due to the seclusion of the MAJN area, among other reason, the private players are not interested in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Model at the junction. As soon as the government takes a call on the matter, we will act on it,” an official from the Southern Railway division said.
In the 2009 version of the Manual for Standards and Specifications for Railway Stations, the Indian Railway has listed out the prerequisites for a station to be considered to meet international standards – among them, comfortable and efficient passenger experience, ease of movement, security, safety and accessibility of passengers, superior train operations, smoother and safer road traffic flow to and from the station and superior road connectivity to the city, adequate parking within the station premises, availability of public toilets, water points, rest rooms, availability of train information and enquiry counters, convenience stores, food courts, ATMs, provision of assisted locomotion (elevators, escalators, moving walkways), designs conducive to fresh air and comfortable temperatures in all seasons. Forget all of these, MAJN does not even meet the very basic parameters.
However 2018 state elections coming up, ministers have started touring the Mangalore Junction Station again with promises and assurances. Recently, local MLA JR Lobo visited MAJN and surveyed the area and assured widening of the approach road at a cost of Rs 4.05 crore. Local residents are less optimistic. “This is the usual drill pre or post polls, the minister walks in and gives a few assurances and leaves. Nothing much happens, except that we will probably see him for another election,” a local resident quipped.