Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on November 23 shared the news that the government is planning to start 180 ‘Bharat Gaurav’ trains aimed at giving a boost to the tourism sector. He said that the Railways has identified 3033 coaches for the purpose and has invited applications for taking over the operation of the new train service.
Private tour operators can now take trains on lease from the railways and run them on any circuit of their choice, with the freedom to decide routes, fares and quality of services under this new scheme called ‘Bharat Gaurav’. Anyone, from societies, trusts, consortia and even state governments can apply to take these trains and run them on special tourism circuits based on a theme. Theme-based tourism means trains like Guru Kripa that goes to all places related to Guru Nanak or a Ramayan-themed train to touch upon places related to Lord Ram, the railways said in a statement.
The Shri Ramayana train tour, launched under the ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ theme by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), commenced on November 8. Covering a distance of more than 7,500 km, the train will take the pilgrims to places such as Ayodhya, Prayag, Nandigram, Janakpur, Chitrakoot, Sitamarhi, Nasik, Hampi and Rameshwaram. The train has a capacity of 132 passengers in two categories- 2AC and 1AC. The 2AC package is priced at Rs 83,000 and 1AC package is priced at Rs 1.02 lakh. The next Shri Ramayana Yatra will start in December.
However, the Indian Railways withdrew the saffron attire of its serving staff on board the Ramayana Special Trains following objections from certain quarters. Earlier, seers from Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh had said it was an insult to the Hindu religion and threatened to stop the train in Delhi on December 12 if this dress code is not withdrawn. “We have written a letter two days back to the Union Railway Minister lodging our protest against waiters serving refreshments and food in the Ramayan Express in saffron. Donning saffron attire with a sadhu-like headgear and wearing malas (necklaces) of rudraksha is an insult to the Hindu religion and its seers,” Ujjain Akhada Parishad's former general secretary Avdeshpuri told PTI.
Asked about the controversy related to the attire of staff of the Ramayana Special Trains, Vaishnaw said that they have taken lessons from the episode. “We've learned from it. When we deal with any point in culture then there are many sensitive points to it. We must consciously adopt in our processes of designing, food, dress and other things. So we should move forward with this learning,” he said.
While launching ‘Bharat Gaurav’, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said that this would be a new segment in Indian Railways. Vaishnaw said the railways has done stakeholder consultation and there was demand for ICF coaches and in the future, even Vande Bharat, vistadome and LHB type of coaches can be included. “ICF coaches have familiarity. That’s why there was a demand from the stakeholders,” he said, adding several state governments have shown interest in taking up operation for these trains. Any interested party can apply online by registering with a one-time fee of Rs 1 lakh. The parameters of the scheme are that the operator has to offer sightseeing, food, local transport (taxi etc), hotels at stopover places, onboard entertainment and such things. The arrangement can be for two to 10 years. Operators have to give a security deposit of Rs 1 crore per rake. The size of each train would be 14-20 coaches, including two guard vans. The railways will just take haulage charges and a Right to Use fee. The railways will set up special units in zones to facilitate and handhold the operators. Branding and advertisement are permitted inside and on the exterior of the trains.
Ashwini Vaishnaw also told that the state governments like Odisha, Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu have shown interest in these trains. He further added that the core strength of the professionals of tourism sector would be leveraged to develop and identify tourist circuits and run theme-based trains to tap the vast tourism potential of India. He also said that the idea originated from Prime Minister Narendra Modi who suggested theme-based trains so that people in the country can understand, appreciate and take forward India’s heritage.
The highlight of ‘Bharat Gaurav’ trains will be that the service provider will offer all-inclusive package to tourists, including rail travel, hotel accommodation, sightseeing arrangement, visiting historical or heritage sites, tour guides, the railways said, adding that they will also have full flexibility to decide package cost based on the level of services being offered. However, he stated that the railways will ensure that there is no abnormality in the prices.