Stranded in Bangalore Like any other big city, an ample proportion of the population of Bangalore is made up of migrants. While all talk dwells on the growth of the city itself, Subir Ghosh finds that for many outsiders (both from within the state and elsewhere), even getting hold of a train ticket to one’s hometown is a traumatic experience.
ishal Verma’s hometown is faraway Patna. The capital of Bihar may not be all that far away as the crow flies, but it is rendered farther by the tribulation he has to suffer in order to travel to Patna. Verma, who works as an IT professional in the city, needs to think three months well in advance if he even dreams of taking a train to Patna. Verma has reasons to feel chagrined, “There is only the Sanghamitra Express which goes to Patna. Although the train leaves Bangalore all seven days of the week, I need to think three months in advance. We really need more trains to Patna because there are a lot of people from that state who work here. To book a ticket on IRCTC is virtually impossible. One just don’t get a reservation unless one books three months ahead. How do you plan emergencies three months in advance? A number of times I had to go to agents and touts to book tickets. I had to pay twice the usual fare to get my tickets confirmed — I had no other option.” In his lament, youngster Verma is not alone. Anyone who cannot afford the luxury of flying out of Bangalore has the unnerving feel of being stranded in the city. When Bangalore started booming in the early Nineties as the IT capital of the country, the attention of planners seemed to have been focused more on infrastructure. Apartment complexes mushroomed, lakes made way for so-called development, trees were brought down to build roads — all efforts were concentrated in building Bangalore. As the city grew, it needed resources. It guzzled more water, and consumed more power. It certainly grew. Growth meant urban agglomeration, and the number of people living in the city. The population of Bangalore district jumped by a whopping 46 per cent from 6,537,124 in 2001 to 9,588,910 in 2011. One of the key drivers for this growth was migration. This is where something got skewed. Air connectivity from Bangalore became better by the day; but for any other metropolitan city where a substantial chunk of the population is from outside, policymakers seemed to have paid little heed to rail connectivity. If the index of rail connectivity is to be measured in terms of how well the city/town in question is connected to the capital of the country, New Delhi, then Bangalore figures nowhere at the top. There is only one daily Rajdhani Express that runs between Bangalore City and Hazrat Nizamuddin (in New Delhi). No other Rajdhani from further south runs through Bangalore to the capital. On the other hand, every Rajdhani Express to Howrah or Sealdah runs through Bihar. In other words, Verma would be better connected elsewhere. Surabhi Shandilya, a public relations professional who migrated to Bangalore from New Delhi in the quest for a better life, now has every reason to grumble. “Although Delhi is the capital city of the country, it is very
difficult to travel from there to Bangalore. We have to book tickets months in advance. There are only a couple of fast trains to Delhi such as the Rajdhani Express and the Sampark Kranti Express,” rues Shandilya. For Shandilya, getting out of Bangalore is as difficult as it is for Verma. Trains are packed months in advance and getting a reservation is like winning a lottery. The IRCTC website fails to rescue anyone, and Shandilya too has to fall back on touts and agents. The easier way out of Bangalore is by flight, and Shandilya prefers the airway out of this city. If New Delhi is so poorly connected with Bangalore, one can imagine what it might be like going to the heart of India — Chhattisgarh. Rohit Halder, another professional who is into IT, is one such hapless individual. Says Halder, “Bangalore has only one train for Chhattisgarh which leaves twice a week. Even for this we have to go via Nagpur,” and goes on to assert, “There has got to be better connectivity with other parts of the country, because otherwise people will just use flights to travel, especially during emergencies.” But no, going to Nagpur is not that easy either. Sumukhi Suresh, a business developer based in Bangalore, finds it difficult to travel to Nagpur, her native city, because the only “decent” train that goes to the Vidarbha hub is the Rajdhani Express. Suresh makes her point by making things threadbare. “There are a few other trains, but those are not as good as the Rajdhani, and I don’t feel safe in them. I prefer travelling by train, but the Rajdhanis are forever booked. So, I have to either cancel my trip or take a flight. Moreover, the trains traverse a very roundabout route, which takes a lot of time. I think it would help a lot if we had more trains to Delhi because Nagpur would be en route.” Only if someone would listen. People like Shandilya and Suresh have afford the luxury to opt for flights, but someone like Mitu Moni Nath cannot. Nath works as a security guard, and lives in distant Assam. He says, “Currently there are three trains that go towards Assam from Bangalore every week, but the number is insufficient. Most of the time, there is so much rush for tickets that if one has to go to that Northeast state, he/she needs to book tickets three months in advance. Introducing even one more train would reduce the rush, and make it easier for the people to get confirmed tickets.” Nath could well be speaking for thousands of others from the Northeast. The number of people hailing from the Northeast who earn a living in Bangalore is substantial, but for anyone even thinking of travelling to that region can be a nightmarish experience. Little wonder that the authorities had to run a number of special trains to Guwahati during the Northeast Exodus that brought shame upon Bangalore in August last year. It is not that rail connectivity within the state is better — it is probably far worse. By
conservative estimates, about half the migrants living in Bangalore are from within the state itself. And travelling to other parts of Karnataka is equally gruelling. Balakrishna Hegde, whose native place is Sirsi in Uttara Kannada district, has a few tough choices to make before he can embark on a journey home. It’s a Hobson’s choice for him to reach Sirsi, about 430km from Bangalore. For one, he can take a train to Kumta, 65km from his native place. This is inconvenient since the single train that goes there takes a circuitous route and traverses over 550km in the bargain. Hegde can also go to Talaguppa, which is 60km from his town. Here too, the Bangalore-Shimoga Intercity is the only train around which was extended to Talaguppa recently. Hegde prefers going to Haveri, which is about 70km from Sirsi. “It’s a convenient route to take as many trains are available,” he says. Why Karnataka fails to get its proposals for more lines and trains approved by the Centre is a different debate altogether. But as of now, people like Shandilya, Verma and Hegde stay stuck in Bangalore. @write2kill / email@example.com