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CHANGING TRACKS

Year-end train ticket sales drop sharply in India amid nation-wide protests

An Indian Railway police official films commuters as they board a passenger train at a railway station in Kolkata
Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri
Unsettled.
Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Train travel in India has taken a hit amid protests and demonstrations being held in several parts of the country.

The number of confirmed train tickets for travel during the last week of December this year is a mere 2.8 million, compared with 6.84 million in the same period of 2018, according to data from train ticket booking platform Confirmtkt.

“There is a drop of 50% compared to last year. This may be because there are a lot of trains people cancelled tickets for, due to protests,” Sripad Vaidya, co-founder and chief operating officer at Confirmtkt, told Quartz, referring to the uproar over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Indians have been protesting the government’s move to redefine the country’s citizenship criteria, potentially requiring many to provide documents dating back 50 years. The CAA seeks to make undocumented migrants—Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, but not Muslims—from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, eligible for Indian citizenship. Combined with the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), the newly enacted law is perceived to be anti-Muslim.

What initially began as peaceful protests in early December have since taken a violent turn with at least 22 people dead.

Consequently, travel in India—on trains or otherwise—is off the cards for many. Making matters worse, the government has tried various tactics to dismantle the outburst—prescribing internet shutdowns and  imposing Section 144, which bars the assembly of more than four people in a place illegal. Denying internet access and restricting movement in groups is yet another impediment to tourism.

All roads lead to protests

While the Christmas season is usually peak time for foreign tourists to visit India, that’s not the case this year. Several foreign nations issued travel advisories against India. There have also been cases in which foreign tourists were mistreated in parts of the country, which may have dissuaded potential travellers.

In Kochi, a Norwegian tourist was questioned for taking part in anti-CAA protests. A 24-year-old German IIT Madras student, who drew parallels with the Holocaust with placards reading “Uniformed Criminals = Criminals” and “1933-1945…We have been there,” was sent back home by the Foreigners Regional Registration Office in Chennai.

Already Goa’s travel and tourism association has cited a sharp drop in foreign tourists due to concerns over protests. The number of visitors has gone down by almost 50%, Goa’s hospitality industry stakeholders told Business Today.

Foreign and domestic tourism to Assam, Agra and Mysuru have dipped similarly and revenues are suffering. For instance, in 2018, Assam’s state tourism department had collected between Rs1200 crore and Rs1500 crore ($168 million to $210 million), out of which 30% was collected alone in the month of December. However, this year, the tourism sector has collected under Rs400 crore till now.

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