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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Explained: Understanding the language of railway station signboards

While Indian Railways may own the station, it does not get involved in the business of naming it. This, it leaves to the discretion of the state governments concerned because, obviously, a station is identified by the place it is in and not the other way around.

Written by Avishek G Dastidar , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: July 16, 2020 7:39:32 am
express explained, indian railways, indian railways names stations, dehradun station, Indian Railway Works Manual, sambit patra, indian express Outside Sealdah Railway Station during the lockdown. (Express Photo: Partha Paul)

On Monday morning, BJP national vice president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe retweeted a handle called @SortedEagle that posted a picture purportedly of a new signboard showing the names of Dehradun railway station written in Hindi, English and Sanskrit, with the last having purportedly replaced the Urdu name on the original signboard. “Dehradunam”, the new name read. Minutes later, BJP spokesman Sambit Patra tweeted two photos — a signboard with Dehradun written in English, Hindi and Urdu, and the one retweeted by Sahasrabuddhe. “SANSKRIT,” Patra wrote.

Naming of railway stations is based on a set of codes and manuals that has evolved over a century. It even prescribes what colour, shape and size the names are to be written in.

How is the change of name formalised?

While Indian Railways may own the station, it does not get involved in the business of naming it. This is left to the discretion of the state government concerned. When a state government wants to change the name of a city and wants that to reflect on signboards including in railway stations, it writes to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the nodal ministry for such matters.

When the Uttar Pradesh government wanted to change the name of Mughalsarai station, Railways waited for the Home Ministry and the state government to work out the formalities and notify the transporter. It was only after that the name was officially changed to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Junction on station signboards and tickets. The same was the case with Allahabad to Prayagraj.

How are the languages to be displayed on the signboard decided?

This aspect is governed by what is known as the Indian Railway Works Manual— a 260-odd-page document that codifies everything related to civil engineering construction works. Traditionally, station names were written only in Hindi and English. Over time, it was instructed that a third language, which is the local language, should be included.

Even then, the matter is not so simple. Paragraph 424 of the Manual says that Railways should obtain approval of the state government concerned on the spelling of the names (in all three languages) before putting them on its signboards.

“The station names shall be exhibited in the following order: Regional Language, Hindi and English, except for Tamil Nadu where the use of Hindi will be restricted to important stations and pilgrim centres as determined by the Commercial Department. Where the Regional language is Hindi, the name boards will be in two languages, Hindi and English…,” the Manual says.

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Which signboards include Urdu?

In Uttar Pradesh, Urdu is one of the official languages and inscribed on station signboards. Uttarakhand was once a part of UP, so the Dehradun station continues to have Urdu on the boards.

But that is not all. Urdu being a unique language that is not a regional language confined to a particular state, Indian Railways has separate rules for writing station names in this language on its signboards.

Paragraph 424 of the Works Manual has a separate section that lists districts across India where all stations are to have names in Urdu along with other languages. This list has been updated over time. It has close to 100 districts from South Indian states to Maharashtra to Bihar (see list below).

Even after this, if there is a language that locals feel should be represented on station signboards, concerned Railway departments are mandated to include it after discussions with the Zonal Railway Users’ Consultative Committee and the state government.

Is the Urdu name being replaced with Sanskrit in Dehradun?

A BJP MLA had written to the Railways Ministry to get the name written in Sanskrit, while a local group locally objected to the Urdu script being removed, sources said. Local railway offices wrote to the district authorities to obtain the official Sanskrit name last September and also in February this year. For now, Railways maintains that signboards in Uttarakhand would continue to display names in English, Hindi and Urdu.

Districts where railway station names are to be displayed also in Urdu

Darbanga, Purniya, Sitamari and Katihar, Bhopal, Khandwa, Morena, Gwalior, Guna, Sagar, Ratlam, Devas, Dhar, Indore, Khargone, Rajgad, Sehore, Raysen, Jabalpur, Siwni, Bareli, Bijnor, Lucknow, Meerut, Muradabad, Muzaffar Nagar, Rampur, Saharanpur, Pilibit, Baharaich, Gonda, Barabanki, Basti, Gurgaon, Balasor, Cuttack, Puri, Bardwan, Hubli, Chittor, Cuddapah, Ananthpur, Adilabad, Guntur, Kurnool, Karim Nagar, Khammam, Mehboob Nagar, Medak, Nellore, Nalgonda, Warangal, Nizambad, Prakasam, Rangareddy etc. (All the regions of Hyderabad including Hyderabad Nagar Mahapalika), North Arcot, Ambedkar, Dharamapuri, Sabarkanya, Khoda, Panchmahals and Baruch, Bellary, Bidar, Vijayapura, Dharwad, Gulbarga, Kolar, Raichur, Shimoga, North Kanara, Kodgu, Dhane, Raygad, Ratnagiri, Nasik, Dhule, Jalgaon, Ahmednagar, Purne, Solapur, Aurangabad, Parbani, Bid, Nanded, Usmanabad, Buldhana, Ankola, Amarabati, Yawatmal and Nagpur.

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