Acting on an idea pushed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Railways plans to install at least one lakh stainless steel benches in 1,500 stations across the country. The benches will sport the name of the local Member of Parliament, whose funds will be used, as sponsors of the project.
The tender for the one lakh benches, which will likely be floated next month, will be the single largest procurement of public furniture by a government utility in the country and is among the more ambitious moves by the Railways to utilise MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) funds to upgrade basic station amenities.
The Prime Minister’s Office has been monitoring the progress of this little-known idea, it is learnt. With trains accounting for nearly 2.5 crore passengers every day from all constituencies, the thinking, sources said, was that elected representatives should also contribute to help passengers as they wait for trains.
At present, the seating space at railway platforms is often inadequate compared to the number of people on platforms every day. The cost involved in the project may not be much, sources said. According to the ministry’s assessment, a steel bench may cost between Rs 12,000 and Rs 30,000 depending on the size and specifications. At present, the Railways are considering four-seater and 10-seater circular benches.
To give the project a fillip, the Railways has also adopted a novel “1+1” policy – for every bench an MP sponsors at a station in their constituency, the Railways will install another bench at the same station and display MP’s name on it as the benefactor.
MPs from across the political spectrum have been informed of this new policy decision. Sources said that MPs who want the benches sporting their names could contact railway authorities with a pledge to sponsor. It is believed that the job could be completed before March 2019 but the Railways hopes to complete it earlier.
Over the past year, the idea to utilise MPLAD funds for platform benches has not been as fast as the ministry had hoped with MPs chipping in only in fits and starts. Around Rs 14 crore has been collected so far for the benches leading the Railways to take the central approach this time.
Prime Minister Modi, for instance, gave Rs 40 lakh from his MPLAD fund for 900 benches at railway stations like Kashi and Varanasi in his constituency, while Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has committed Rs 25 lakh in her Vidisha constituency. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has pledged 1,940 seats for stations in Gujarat, from where he is a Rajya Sabha MP and Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti gave Rs 36 lakh.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, while agreeing with the idea, did not give money to Railways. Instead, he got 68 benches procured for railway stations in Musafirkhana, Nihalgarh and Gauriganj in Amethi district of Uttar Pradesh from his LAD fund.
Trinamool Congress MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay has committed Rs 20 lakh for Kolkata’s suburban stations in his constituency.
Instead of spreading the job across numerous tenders by zonal railways, the matter is being anchored in New Delhi to ensure uniformity of design and other specifications. There were also procedural issues like design approval from the Railways’ Research Design and Standards Organisation from each zone. This is also in line with the ministry’s preference for bulk tenders to gain a possible price advantage.