ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Railways will upgrade waiting halls at its 16 major stations by equipping them with facilities like air-conditioners, internet kiosks and televisions.

The waiting rooms at the stations are generally well maintained, however, proposals are under consideration to improve facilities for passengers at railway stations across the country, an official in the Ministry of Railways told APP.

Initially, 16 stations including Karachi City, Karachi Cantonment, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Bahawalpur, Sahiwal, Okara, Raiwind, Lahore, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Hassanabdal, Nankana Sahib, Narowal, Peshawar and Quetta had been selected for upgradation, he added.

He said that the scope of up-gradation would cover all allied amenities for convenience of passengers.

In addition one air-conditioned waiting room for ladies and one for gents have been constructed at Lahore Station.

To a question, he said it was not a fact that substandard food and other items were being sold at railway stations at higher prices, adding that in fact the department had introduced a new Catering Policy whereby the sale of non-standard food and other items had been completely eliminated.

Now only branded food items such as water, soft drinks, ice-cream, tea, biscuits etc, were being sold, he added.

He said a system of checking had also been put in place to ensure quality and prices of eatables being sold at the stations.

Meanwhile, showing zero tolerance against illegal state land grabbers across the country, the Pakistan Railways has so far got vacated over 3,498 acres of its land from encroachers in a period of almost last four years.

"A total of 3,498.579 acres of Railways land has been retrieved and regularized till last year after a detailed survey and subsequent campaign launched against encroachers on directives of the Supreme Court," official sources in the Ministry of Railways told APP.

The anti-encroachment drive, they said, was being monitored by the divisional superintendents, railway headquarters and at the level of ministry.Besides a comprehensive policy was in place to prevent further encroachments, making railway officers and police responsible 'in case of any new encroachment.'

During the current campaign, they said around 700 persons were arrested in the anti-encroachment operations and they were being trialed in the courts after retrieving the land from their unauthorized occupation.

To a question, the sources said the issue regarding illegal occupation and possession of Railway land by government departments and institutions had also been taken up with concerned departments.

"It is an ongoing exercise, which will continue till the elimination of encroachments."

The present government, they said, had initiated a project for computerization of Railway land record, adding that the work had been entrusted to M/s Urban Unit for harmonizing the land record with data of the provincial revenue department.

Accordingly, they said, a Project Management Unit (PMU) had been set up in the Railway Headquarters Office, Lahore and preliminary surveys were in progress.

The project would be helpful in identifying the encroached land, safeguarding the railway property and facilitating transparent commercial utilization of the surplus sites to their optimum business potential, they added.

They claimed that the government had shown zero tolerance against encroachments of all kinds and had taken across the board transparent anti-encroachment measures in all the provinces, and as a result there was no fresh as a result of which there has been no fresh unlawful occupation on Railway land.

To another question, the sources said that the most important achievement of the present government was optimal commercial use of vacated lands through short term leasing, from which it generated around Rs 4,194 million income during last four years.

"Another important milestone of our government is the initiative to computerize the land record, which will provide a transparent database of encroachments, computerized monitoring system besides help facilitate the anti-encroachment measures," they remarked.