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Maitree Express is well begun, now to make it work

By Indrani Roy Mitra on board the Maitree Express
April 16, 2008 16:53 IST
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Only a lucky few get to see their dreams turn into reality. Former Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina is definitely not one of them. Her brainchild, the Kolkata-Dhaka passenger train, resumed service at a time when the former premier is under house arrest.

The Hasina government had conceptualised this railway service way back in 2001. On July 11 that year, the train had a trial run and an agreement with India was supposed to be signed the day after. But political instability and unrest in Bangladesh had relegated the project to the backburner and it took another seven years for the train to resume service.

The train is a dream come true for Bengalis divided by a manmade border, but the many bottlenecks involved in the journey need to be addressed.

Firstly, Customs formalities need to be simplified, as the long three-hour wait at the border is bound to test the patience of even the most seasoned traveller.

Having travelled on the train on both days since its inauguration, I have no qualms in admitting that arrangements on the Bangladesh side were far better than those on the Indian side.

Customs officials, on both sides of the border, need to be caring, hospitable and less fussy. At the Indian border checkpoint at Gede, the Customs officials insisted on thoroughly inspecting the tiffin box of eminent Bengali writer Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay. As part of their 'security check', they counted the number of puris in his tiffin box and raised questions about the bananas he was carrying.

In spite of each passenger's luggage being scanned, they were reopened, searched and handled roughly by the Customs officials.

When this correspondent requested that a female official inspect her bag, the Customs officials looked shocked!

Emotions apart, logistics are of extreme importance when it comes to travel and tourism.

According to Jaya Verma Sinha, railway advisor at the Indian high commission in Dhaka, India has many plans in the pipeline to attract more passengers.

"Primarily, Indian Railways will offer traditional Bengali fare like Hilsa, rice, mishti doi and Biryani on the Maitree Express," she said.

To popularise the train service between the two Bengals, Indian Railways needs to ensure that there is better co-ordination between the two sides. Tickets for Maitree Express should be made available in stations across India.

Also, presentation of passport/visa should not be mandatory while issuing the train tickets. Booking and cancellation facilities for the tickets should be available online and return tickets should be available on both sides of the border. The railway authorities should also emphasise on the upgradation and infrastructural development of the Chitpur/Kolkata station.

To facilitate a comfortable, hassle-free journey for passengers, the authorities should expedite the immigration formalities and reschedule the train timings, so that less of daytime is spent in travelling.  Air-conditioned compartments can be added depending on the passenger response. Indian Railways also needs to introduce extra luggage booking facility and better facilities for children and senior citizens. 

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Indrani Roy Mitra on board the Maitree Express
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