Dirty platforms. Congested approach. Touts out to scalp the gullible. No more.
The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is planning a makeover for the establishment that opened in 1906, and draws 900,000 people every day.
With complaints of tourist harassment being a daily affair for quite some time now, a recent missive from Union tourism minister Renuka Chowdhury seems to have given a prod to the administration.
Taking note of incidents of 'duping, cheating and overcharging of tourists,' Chowdhury has asked the state government to make provisions for 'tourist police' to watch over hapless travellers.
A joint exercise is being initiated by the tourism department, Calcutta Port Trust, Howrah police and the railway authorities. In the pipeline are:
Installation of new and attractive signage to guide tourists
Beautification of the area leading to the old station complex
Regulation of traffic outside the station complex
Smoother functioning of the prepaid taxi counters and elimination of touts from the system.
'The objective is to make Howrah station a tourist-friendly place,' explained M.K. Sengupta, director, West Bengal Tourism.
To guide tourists right from the station platforms (19 for passengers and two for cargo), the railway authorities will put up eye-catching signboards indicating the taxi stand, bus stand, ticket reservation counter, the West Bengal tourism counter and eateries in the vicinity.
The tourism department is planning to open another West Bengal Tourism counter at the new station complex.
This counter will provide visitors tips on places to visit, a list of hotels, how to deal with taxi drivers and the way to prepaid taxi booths. Relevant information will also be run on electronic display boards on the station premises.
The Calcutta Port Trust has pitched in by promising to improve the dreary landscape outside the station complex.
A 5,500 sq ft area will be beautified, with a landscaped garden interspersed with fountains. The land, which belongs to the Port Trust, is now a haven for beggars and hawkers.
'We will arrange for beautification of the park and put up attractive signboards for sponsors. Tenders will be floated soon,' Port Trust chairman A.K. Chanda said.
The tourism department will help regulate traffic outside the station in collaboration with the police. A meeting with the local MLA, Howrah mayor, taxi unions and the district magistrate is scheduled for Thursday.