How ease of travel can become a reality in India

While aviation and railways are doing their bit for Mission Ease of Travel, it is for the states to come forward to make this mission a day-to-day experience for citizens.

Published: 21st December 2022 12:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st December 2022 12:57 AM   |  A+A-

Image for illustration purpose only. (Express Illustrations | Sourav Roy)

Prime Minister Modi had rightly emphasised on the importance of ‘Ease of Travel’ at the inauguration of the new airport at Mopa in Goa, where he said that with increased air connectivity, there is greater Ease of Travel which would eventually result in a greater fillip to tourism. Up from 74 in 2014, India now has 140 functional airports, making air travel affordable and accessible. Like air travel, railways have also contributed considerably in furthering the Ease of Travel.

While the aviation sector is focusing mainly on improving and extending basic infrastructure and enhancing connectivity, railways are stressing on the overall improvement of quality in service delivery, mainly the availability of healthy food and clean water. Indian Railways is also setting up facilities like lifts, escalators, etc. at stations.

A few of the major initiatives undertaken to improve the quality of catering services in Indian Railways during the last six months include the upgradation of Base Kitchens and Kitchen Units, CCTV cameras in these upgraded kitchens and units to ensure real-time monitoring through Artificial Intelligence and sharing of live streaming, making Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) certification of each catering unit mandatory, and Third Party Audit of Pantry Cars and Kitchen Units, along with regular inspections and customer satisfaction surveys. Besides this, in order to provide quality drinking water to passengers, approximately 9.3 lakh litres of Rail Neer (packaged drinking water) is being supplied to passengers on Indian Railways everyday.

While aviation and railways, both essentially part of the Central List, are doing their bit for Mission Ease of Travel, it is for the states to come forward to make this mission a day-to-day experience for citizens. For a citizen, the usage of transport regulated by the state government is considerably more frequent, almost daily, compared to air or rail travel, which is occasional. Most of the issues that a citizen is confronted with are about intra-city as also inter-city travel by road for travel in the interior, rural parts of the country.

Serious attention to these is a must for the mantra of Ease of Travel reaching the grassroots. While the entire ‘to-do list’ of state governments is understandably lengthy, a few of the important agenda items meriting immediate attention are as follows:

First and foremost, for safe and citizen-friendly interactive travel by pedestrians, the right to walk in a safe and secure environment deserves urgent attention. Most urban areas today have become pedestrians’ nightmare. The local bodies and, in turn, the state governments, need to come up with stricter laws supported by effective implementation mechanisms—this is the need of the hour. This would ensure not just justice for pedestrians but also equality for all road users.

Another major challenge in intra-city travel is that of ever-expanding encroachments. True, existing laws are completely against any kind of illegal occupation of land or encroachments. And yet, encroachers of all kinds roam around freely. Most encroachments are on roadside lands generally owned by government authorities, either Central, state or local. Pavements are the most alluring destinations for squatters. Nowadays, encroachers seem to have set their eyes on empty places below flyovers and metro lines. The tools of action and enforcement are in place, and it is on state governments to ensure implementation as these encroachers not just make the surroundings untidy and filthy, but also pose challenges to the free flow of traffic and the security of pedestrians. About illegally constructed places of worship on pavements, the less said the better.

For ease of travel within the city, we have all kinds of cab, auto and bus services too. And yet, the ease of getting a cab or auto continues to be a far cry from reality. Recalcitrant cab drivers may start behaving if issuance of auto and cab licences remains strictly in proportion to the population. Besides, notwithstanding the government’s emphasis on promoting and improving public road transport facilities, city bus services are pathetic in most metropolitan cities, to say the least.

It would be worth considering how the quality quotient in operations of these services could be incentivised by linking it to financial support coming from the state and the Centre.

Black and yellow cabs or government-controlled cabs and auto services is yet another area where thousands of unfettered owners, operators and drivers continue to swindle helpless passengers unabashedly, regardless of which city one lives in. For over a decade, urban dwellers have been using Ola, Uber and similar syndicated transport services. It is high time consumer courts step in and suo moto conduct a study on the quality of their services and the rate of consumer satisfaction.

The inter-city bus travel market in India is huge. But discussing the state of most inter-city public bus transport services in different states is opening another can of worms. Land sharks and other interested parties have already ensured the failure of state transport bus services at least in a few states. It would be educational and eye-opening to understand what has happened to the land where, previously, bus stations were in operation.

Besides, it is also pertinent to note that people with vested interests work overtime for wanton deterioration of the quality bus service offered by the state road transport corporations more often than not, to ensure brisk business for private bus operators.

By providing good roads, the Centre has done its bit, and it is now on the state governments to work on the template of accessibility, affordability and quality of services to make Ease of Travel a grassroots reality.

Growing urbanisation calls for greater attention to the quality of life in our cities. And the centrality of ease of urban travel in the quality of life cannot be overlooked. Very obviously, the Central and state governments have a limited role in improving the ease of urban travel, and hence it is for our urban local bodies to pay more attention, come up with new policies, and work hard to meet the expectations of city dwellers and thereby, translate PM Narendra Modi’s vision of Ease of Travel into reality.

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe

President, ICCR and senior BJP leader



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