It is a common misconception that Indian Railways can change the name of its stations. That is not the case.
The name of Bhopal’s Habibganj railway station has been changed to Rani Kamlapati station. The BJP government of Madhya Pradesh proposed this to the Centre last week, which gave the clearance without any delay. This is to coincide with the inauguration of the station, which has been redeveloped at a cost of around Rs 100 crore with private participation — a first such large-scale PPP model in station redevelopment in India, in the works for the past few years.
The station is to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday.
According to the state government, the renaming is to honour the memory and sacrifices made by a queen of the Gond community.
Who was queen Kamlapati?
Rani Kamlapati was the widow of Nizam Shah, whose Gond dynasty ruled the then Ginnorgarh, 55 km from Bhopal, in the 18th century. Nizam Shah built the famous seven-storeyed Kamlapati Palace in her name in Bhopal.
According to the state government, Kampalati is known to have shown great bravery in facing aggressors during her reign after her husband was killed. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has claimed that Kamlapati was the “last Hindu queen of Bhopal”, who did great work in the area of water management and set up parks and temples.
The Gond are one of the largest tribal communities in India, spread across Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar and Odisha. The renamed and redeveloped railway station is being inaugurated on November 15, the birth anniversary of the iconic 19th century tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda.
Why does a railway station’s name change?
Changing of railway station names is not new. There are times when state governments decide to go for a name change to represent long-standing popular demand or history, or as part of a political project pushing for a wider iconography.
For instance, in 1996, the city of Madras was officially rechristened ‘Chennai’ to underline history and local sentiments. The name of the railway station, too, changed from Madras to Chennai as a result.
Since 2014, a number of stations have got new names. The most notable among them was Mughalsarai Junction, which became Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay Junction in 2018 to honour the right-wing ideologue who was found dead in Mughalsarai in 1968.
In the same year, Allahabad was renamed Prayagraj by the Yogi Adiyanath government.
Of late, the Manduadih station in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh was renamed Benaras to reflect the name by which the city is known. The larger station representing the city is already called Varanasi Junction.
Again this year, on Diwali, the Faizabad Junction station next to Ayodhya was renamed Ayodhya Cantonment station.
How are railway station names changed?
It is a common misconception that Indian Railways can change the name of its stations. That is not the case. While Indian Railways may own the station, it does not get involved in the business of naming it. This is left to the discretion of the state government concerned. Change of station names is entirely a state subject even though Railways belong to the Union government.
The state governments send the request to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the nodal ministry for these matters, which then accords its approval, keeping the Ministry of Railways in the loop. Usually, it is ensured that no other station with the new name proposed exists anywhere in India. If a state government wants to change the name of a city, generally, there is little reason for the Centre to come in the way or keep an old name in circulation, including in the signage of its properties there.
Indian Railways receives regular representations from civil society groups, political parties and others to change the names of stations, citing historical reasons or local sentiments. In most cases, it replies that it is a matter for the state government and the Home ministry.
What happens when a name is changed?
Once the name change is notified by the state government following all due process, Indian Railways steps in to do the necessary work. A new station “code” for railway operation purposes may need to be invented. For instance Faizabad Junction’s code used to be “FD” but post the name change, the new code is “AYC”. The name change is then fed into its ticketing system so that the new name along with the code is reflected on its tickets and reservation and train information.
Lastly, it physically changes the name written at the station — building, platform signage, etc, and also in its communication materials for all practical purposes.
How are the languages, spellings to be displayed on the signboard decided?
This aspect is governed by what is known as the Indian Railway Works Manual— a 260-odd-page document that codifies everything related to civil engineering construction works. Traditionally, station names were written only in Hindi and English. Over time, it was instructed that a third language, which is the local language, should be included.
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Even then, the matter is not simple. Paragraph 424 of the Manual says that Railways should obtain approval of the state government concerned on the spelling of the names (in all three languages) before putting them on its signboards.
“The station names shall be exhibited in the following order: Regional Language, Hindi and English, except for Tamil Nadu where the use of Hindi will be restricted to important stations and pilgrim centres as determined by the Commercial Department. Where the Regional language is Hindi, the name boards will be in two languages, Hindi and English…,” the Manual says.
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