Forty-year-old Bindu Kumari sat at the Ajmeri Gate entrance to the New Delhi Railway Station, riveted by the large LED television screen, where a woman in red finery swivelled with gay abandon to a Bhojpuri number.
Though her train to Darbhanga was scheduled to leave four hours later, Bindu and her family did not take any chances and arrived hours in advance to beat the festival rush at the station.
With their unreserved tickets, they usually queue up early at the platform and as soon as the train chugs in, they hop onto it to grab the window seats.
Though Bindu does not perform Chhath puja herself, this is the family’s annual holiday back home. But the very thought of jostling through the crowd and worrying about pickpockets tormented them.
This year, however, as they walked up to the entrance of the station, the large marquee complete with green and red carpets, an LED television screen, additional makeshift ticket counters and water and tea stalls, took them by surprise.
The familiar Bhojpuri songs lifted their spirits and getting tickets from the counter turned out to be a breeze.
“We have been going home on Chhath puja for years now but have never seen anything like this. Look at the tent, the carpets and the movies being shown there,” marvelled Sushil Kumar, Bindu’s husband. “Achhe din aa gaye Railways ke.”
While the Railways routinely introduces a number of special trains this time of the year to handle the surge in passengers — an additional footfall of five lakh passengers is expected during the Chhath puja week — this year a host of other measures were brought in to not only ensure the passengers’ safety but also to keep them suitably ‘entertained’.
“In September, Minister of State for Railways, Manoj Sinha, first held a meeting to plan preparations for the upcoming Chhath puja rush. He came up with the idea that holding areas be put up outside the New Delhi and Anand Vihar railway stations that have the maximum rush for East-bound trains. The holding areas would avoid stampede-like situations at the platforms, where most passengers tend to wait for hours on end. It was decided that large television screens would be put up to keep the passengers engaged and facilities like mobile toilets, water and tea stalls be placed right in front of them,” explained Arun Arora, divisional railway manager, Northern Railways.
“Apart from increasing the number of ticket counters at the booking office, we put up additional makeshift counters in front of this holding area. The facilities have worked wonders with crowd management, as passengers did not have to move around much until their train arrived at the platform,” he said.
“Trains that usually ferry between 1,500 and 2,000 passengers have over 4,000 commuters during the Chhath puja rush. This is despite running additional trains. So while we had first thought of running 35 special east-bound trains, we brought it up to 59 additional trains. This is unprecedented,” added Arora.
This is also the first year when announcements are being made in Bhojpuri at the two railway stations. The announcements, however, are intermittent as Arora says there are very few announcers who can speak the language.
With Chhath just a day away and the crowd at the stations having thinned by now, the marquee, TV screens and additional makeshift counters are being pulled down, much to the displeasure of the other passengers, vendors, auto and taxi drivers and porters, who spent the last week glued to the TV screens.
But Arora promised that these additions will be made every year during Chhath.