The new India of Vande Bharats: Who it accommodates and sidelines

Several persons TNM spoke to echoed one view — the Railways are prioritising premium trains that cater to high income groups, with little attention given to the welfare of regular low income commuters.
The new India of Vande Bharats: Who it accommodates and sidelines

This story is part of a series on the Indian Railways, curated by Maria Teresa Raju, with reportage from the five southern states.

In Kerala, a Railway officer was suspended after a Vande Bharat train was delayed for two minutes during a trial run, in April 2023. Even though the suspension was later revoked following the intervention of labour unions, this incident is an apt example of how Vande Bharat trains are given priority over all other services in the country. Its precise timing is, among other things, one of the most celebrated aspects of this vanity project of the Union government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Vande Bharat, with its luxury and punctuality, is however not for the average rail passenger. These trains, which are heavily promoted by the Modi government, charge almost eight times more than a general coach on a passenger train. Passengers travelling on other trains also have to deal with frequent delays as the tracks are congested and Vande Bharat gets unhindered access. 

It was in February 2019 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the first Vande Bharat train from New Delhi to Varanasi. Since then, the Indian Railways have launched 82 trains across India, most of which were personally flagged off by the PM himself. Touted to be a “momentous progress towards new India,” the expensive and appealing Vande Bharat trains, however, bring to light the many issues plaguing other trains in the Indian railways. 

From speed, comfort, food offered on board, toilet facility, and safety, Vande Bharats are several notches higher than the average Indian train. Its comforts, which are more than what is offered on budget flights, are only for those who can afford the tickets. Moreover, in several places, the prioritisation of the Vande Bharat trains has brought several issues for other trains running along those routes. 

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