- GS-3: Infrastructure
- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Bharat Gaurav Scheme
Context: To promote and attract tourism business, the Indian Railways recently launched Bharat Gaurav trains that will be operated by private players and run on theme-based circuits.
- Through this policy, which offers operators the “Right of Use” of its rakes and infrastructure, the Railways has liberalised and simplified a part of operations that was otherwise carried out mostly by IRCTC.
- While any entity can run these trains, including state governments, it is implied that the policy is targeted at tour operators.
What is the Bharat Gaurav policy?
- Leasing on theme based circuit: According to the Bharat Gaurav policy, any operator or service provider, or virtually anyone, can lease trains from Indian Railways to run on a theme-based circuit as a special tourism package.
- Security of tenure: The tenure of the arrangement is a minimum of two years and maximum of the codal life of the coach.
- Freedom of Operations: The operator has the freedom to decide the route, the halts, the services provided, and, most importantly, the tariff.
- The IRCTC runs such theme-based tourist trains, for instance, the Ramayana Express, which goes on a tour of several places connected to Lord Ram.
- In such packaged tours, typically the passengers stop over at a place, stay at hotels, undertake sightseeing, etc. — all organised by tour operators.
- No Eligibility: Anyone can approach Railways to lease the 3033 conventional Integral Coach Factory-design coaches earmarked for this segment. In fact, if the operator finds it feasible, then it can even purchase rakes from Indian Railway production units and run them.
- Obligation on operator: The operator has to, however, take care of end-to-end, comprehensive service like hotel stay, local arrangements, etc. These trains cannot be used as ordinary transport trains between an origin and destination.
How will the Railways process such applications?
- Creation of Special Unit: There will be a special unit created in each zonal railway to process such applications and also handhold applicants, and see end-to-end procedural requirements for the operators.
- Single Window System: These special units will help operators in creation of itineraries, public outreach, carrying out necessary approvals and the likes. The idea is to provide the operators a place to go to, like a single-window for all their needs when they interact with railways, and not run from pillar to post.
What can the operators do within the contract?
The spirit of the policy is to give operators complete freedom to run the business and develop a business model in which Indian Railways will only physically run the trains, maintain them and charge a fee.
- Freedom of Interior design: The operator can carry out its own furnishings of the interiors of the trains if it wants within safety norms. It can decide what kind of interiors or berth composition it wants. However, it cannot tinker with or dismantle critical parts of the coach that has a bearing on safety and operation.
- Naming Freedom: It can name the circuit, the train and sell advertisement space. It can carry out branding on the exterior and interior of the train.
- Business Tie–ups: It can tie up with agencies and entities for business development and logistics, etc. It can decide the food and entertainment to add to the experience of the passengers.
- Legal Restrictions: However, it has to be ensured that things that are not allowed by railway laws are also not carried out onboard these trains. For instance, the operator cannot serve alcohol, states the policy.
What will Indian Railways do?
- Staff: It will provide staff to drive the trains, guards and also maintenance staff on board for the coaches. Other staff, like housekeeping and catering, etc, will be deployed by the operator.
- Safety: It will also ensure that its entire infrastructure is in place to safely and efficiently host the train in its network.
- Priority in Operations: It will also give these priority in its paths, like the Rajdhanis and premium trains, so that these trains are not held up or sidelined to make way for regular trains.
How much will it cost the operator?
The money works out to be substantial as it is a sum of registration fee, security deposit for the rake, “Right of Use” charges, haulage charges and stabling charges payable by the operator to the Railways.
- All these charges are linked to use of various components of railway resources, like fuel, manpower, depreciation, maintenance, lease, etc.
- To begin with, the Railways will take a one-time online registration fee of Rs 1 lakh from the applicant. The zonal railway concerned will revert after processing the application within10 days.
- Thereafter, after allotment of the rake, there is a security deposit of Rs 1 crore per rake (the physical assets comprise a collection of coaches pulled by an engine), irrespective of the size of the rake, for the duration of the Right of Use period.
- The annual ‘Right of Use’ charges calculated on the basis of the type of coach taken and the duration.
- Delay in payment would result in a penalty equivalent to the bank’s prevailing interest rate plus 3% as administrative fee. If it is not paid within 30 days, the Right of Use may be terminated.
- The yearly Right of Use charge for one AC coach varies from Rs 3.5-1.4 lakh depending on class and age. A pantry car’s Right of Use charge is between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 65,000 depending on the age and type.
Connecting the dots:
- Bibek Debroy Committee on Railways
- National Rail Plan for Infrastructure Capacity Enhancement