Every Diwali, I visit Akola, a city in the eastern Maharashtra state where Siddharth's parents and his sister's family reside.
We travel 611 kilometers distance by a stroke of 10-hour drive on highways, partially just namely. One of the most difficult parts of this road-trip is, apart from jumping and bouncing due to the rough surfaces and potholes on the roads, unavailability of clean, cheerful, safe and 24-hour running highway oasis, like "Michino-eki (road station)" in Japan.
Michi-No-Eki Official English Page
I believe "Michino-eki" can bring much greater benefit to India than shinkansen bullet trains if we think of implementing some innovative ideas from Japan. Taking our Pune-Akola route, for example, we hardly have a decent place to just drop by for toilet after Jalna district, and it makes hard ordeal for any women travelers, worse than a long haul economy class flight. Therefore, I am listing up the prospects "Michino-eki" would bring to India if implemented. Before that, enjoy 2-minute compressed journey clip Google made out of our 10-hour drive!
First, it serves as a rural economy center.
When I was young, my late father would take us to sightseeing spots in and around Kyushu by his driving. As a child, I was longing for different highway oasis (called "service area" in Japan) and "Michino-eki," where we can feel the air of unknown locality otherwise we would have just passed by. Notably, Michino-eki offered varieties of local specialties for travelers to buy, including farm and fishery products produced in the region. I loved examining those with a soft-serve (typical delicacy available) or coffee in one hand.
According to the Japan Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, the definition of "Michino-eki" is the rest facility that hosts three functions. They are: 'resting place' for road users, 'information offering' for road users as well as local people, and 'uniting the local government and community' to revitalize the locality where Michino-eki locates. Some Michino-eki have onsen facility too.
道の駅案内 - 国土交通省
Thinking about India, however, we may have to go beyond the terminology definition. Michino-eki along the highways could boost rural development, economy, and employment. Michino-eki could sell locally sourced vegetables and agro-products (or marine products in coastal areas) and thus play the role of bridging farmers and consumers. I am sure it will largely contribute to the rural empowerment.
Secondly, Michino-eki can house medical office, police, and fire brigade stations. So that Michino-eki will serve as an emergency correspondence center for road travelers as well as for the local community.
Thirdly yet, more importantly, Michino-eki will promote the setting up and maintenance of clean toilets in remote areas, which will resonate with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Swachh Bharat Mission."
Modi's Swachh Bharat mission has built 80 lakh new toilets - but few people are using them - The Daily Mail
Here, maintaining clean toilet does not mean by merely hiring cleaning staffs, but educating travelers and users too to use the public place with better care and attention.
Japan counts 1,117 Michino-eki as of now and yet increasing, and all are governed by MLIT's standard and quality guidelines. In India, having all Michino-eki abide by strict guidelines will be a key. However, I am optimistic about that part considering the habit of people reviewing the facility on the spot with penetration of smartphones and Internet, thanks to Zomato and other web review services.
You may check the detailed guidelines proposed by The World Bank inspired by Michino-eki.
Guidelines for Roadside Stations - The World Bank
I am sure the idea of "Michino-eki" will be welcomed by many people in or above middle-class who can afford family trip by their cars. They need something beyond Dhaba.