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Easy targets

The year 2019 has already seen two train robberies, despite promises in Parliament and performance audits that flag the vulnerable spots

Two robberies on trains in the first three weeks of this year remind us of the old days when dacoits on horses used to raid trains — and remind us how unsafe our trains are, even 19 years into the new millennium.

The railways in India run 12,617 trains to carry an estimated 23 million passengers daily. In a December 2018 PIB note the Ministry of railways spoke about the “Upgradation of Security Criterion in Railways”.

In this it pointed out that escorting of 2,500 trains (on an average daily), is done by Railway Protection Force (RPF) while security for 2,200 trains is provided by Government Railway Police (GRP). This means just 4,700 trains are ‘secured’ and the rest are open to being raided by miscreants. Ironically, one of the trains targeted was the premium Duronto Express, supposedly under RPF protection.

A senior police officer with the RPF said that around the sector where the robbery took place 80 trains pass at that hour. Out of these only 25 are manned by the RPF while about 25 by the GRP. They have deployed 30 more personnel after the incident.

While the sanctioned staff strength of the RPF is 74,538, clearly, enough personnel aren’t being deployed on the trains.

In 2018, Rajen Gohain, Minister of State for Railways, informed the Lok Sabha about the security measures taken by Indian Railways for the safety of passengers. These are:

  • Security helpline No. 182
  • Surveillance through CCTV cameras, provided at about 394 stations
  • The Integrated Security System (ISS) consisting of surveillance of vulnerable stations through CCTV network over 202 railway stations
  • Checks ‘from time to time’ of unauthorised persons in trains and railway premises.
  • It also counted social media as a means to be able to stay in touch with passengers.
  • In the first case of robbery. The incident came to light through the railways portal. There were no officials on the train who came to help the passengers during the robbery, according to the victims themselves.
  • The alleged robbery took place not in some remote location but at Badli on Delhi’s outskirts in the early morning hours of January 17. When the train was waiting for the signal to proceed to the main station in Delhi, a group barged into two AC coaches of the Jammu-Delhi Duronto Express.

Robbers allegedly looted cash, bags, phones and gold chains at knifepoint.

The railways were alerted by a passenger’s complaint on its portal. He wrote, “Suddenly some 7 to 10 unidentified miscreants entered coaches B3 and B7 of the train. They were carrying sharp edged knives with them. They put the knife near to the neck of passengers and asked them to handover whatever expensive items they are carrying with them”.

While the ordeal lasted about 15 minutes, the robbers managed to jump off the train and make a clean getaway before any security personnel showed up. In the passengers’ complaints, one report went on to call it an irony that “neither staff nor security personnel were available there at the time of the mishap”.

“… The attendant told us that there were no security personnel available in the train. We are not safe even in AC coaches and imagine the security in sleeper class and general coaches where passengers enter the train even without tickets…” the passenger wrote.

The senior RPF official said a few men have been apprehended in this case. “We know who have done it. And we will get the gang. They short-circuited the signal and the train had to stop”.

The next day, on January 18 another incident of armed robbery took place close to the Delhi station.

Passengers returning from the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad on board the Tata Jat Express were robbed by armed men.

The second incident took place before 2 am between Badli and Holambi Kalan, railways said.

“The train was attended by RPF and GRP at Sonipat station at 01:55 hrs, where passenger of S-8, Ramnath Maurya, reported loot of Rs 1,000 and small injury in left hand. He has been provided preliminary treatment at Panipat.”

“He said that he will lodge (an) FIR at destination station. The train was not escorted by the RPF. The matter is being thoroughly investigated,” railways said.

Passengers alleged that mobile phones, jewellery and cash were looted from them at gunpoint.

DG with railway police Adhir Sharma told Patriot that there’s a need for more coordination between the different state police forces and the RPF. In spite of security in trains like Rajdhani, crime prevention is still an issue, he added.

The dearth or lack of proper policing was also pointed out in a performance audit report in 2011.
It had said that in the context of enlarging dimensions of terrorist threats to the Indian Railway’s network, “Security management on the IR requires a paradigm shift in attitude”.

It noted that “no effort” had been made to control access to stations: “Unauthorised and/ or multiple entry /exit points on railway stations have not been closed”, which made the railways easily accessible to passengers and non-passengers alike.

It also found that sensitive high-risk stations, had not been decongested, “unnecessarily increasing security risk”.

It said that a test check in audit revealed that “30 per cent of the authorised entry points on the 74 stations checked in Audit were not guarded by security personnel.”

It also found that trains passing through Naxalite affected/dacoity prone areas were unescorted. “Audit observed that even the escorted trains ran unprotected at several intervals. No norms /guidelines were framed regarding the size of the escort party, whether it should be armed and which trains were to be escorted. The local Railway Administration decided the trains to be escorted based on manpower availability, threat perception, and importance of the train.”

The present mechanism for handling passenger-related crime on a moving train is not effective as the jurisdiction of occurrence of the crime is not identifiable, leading to problems in registering of cases. Despite orders dating back to 1997, FIR forms are still not available with coach attendants, conductors and guards of several trains.

The study conducted across the zones indicated that the total crime rate has more than doubled in the last five years. Railway stations, trains and goods sheds/yards were found to be most vulnerable to crime. “However, the Railway Administration failed to redeploy the RPF in accordance with the increase in crime rates.”

The official we spoke to, however, does not believe that deploying more men would solve the problem. “The trains are so long and all are not interconnected. Even if a distress signal is made by the time personnel reach the men will get away”. Which is why he thinks identifying the gangs and apprehending them is the solution.

So for now, looks like nothing will change. We will continue to live dangerously this year, if no steps are taken to abort this neglect of rail safety.