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Rail on self-defence track

Calcutta, Nov. 20: No red light is in sight for Eastern Railway’s lal gari — that spreads Chetana (that’s its name) and rounds up travellers without tickets. And it could spark a Centre-state spat with the railways accusing the state of doing nothing to prevent repeated attacks on it.

A “chance interception” of a girl selling illicit liquor in Sealdah has helped the railways detect a common thread in the attacks on railway property and the special train that has put fear in the hearts of ticketless travellers from Bongaon in the north to Lakshmikantapur in the south.

The girl has told interrogators about criminal activities taking place in some particular stretches, which have also been the points of origin of most of the attacks on railway property, say officials. The stretches of land mostly fall within the jurisdiction of the state, which has “never” cooperated with the railways in reining in the vandals.

A “frustrated” railway administration has decided to take “unilateral action” — without informing the state — to stop the vandals, who have, of late, started targeting expensive railway equipment and cash counters.

“We don’t know why the state (the Government Railway Police) takes no action when it sees vandalism on the platforms,” a senior railway ministry official said on Wednesday, 48 hours after the latest attack in the Sodepur-Ichhapur stretch close to the city. Why must GRP officials wait for an FIR to be lodged, railway officials asked.

They said their men were fitter and better equipped to tackle vandals, adding that the “time has come for taking action unilaterally”.

The pattern that has emerged after a careful study of the raids on railway property and, more specifically, on Chetana has led railway officials to zero in on some particular stretches and helped them analyse the difference in crowd behaviour.

The stretch of North 24-Parganas between Sodepur on the main line and Madhyamgram on the Bongaon line is particularly “troublesome”, say officials. “Bootleggers and satta operators instigate the crowd and then take over, targeting railway property,” Sealdah divisional railway manager Dulal Mitra said. That was what happened at Sodepur on Monday, he added.

“They used iron rods to break the protective barriers around the cash counter,” he said. “Which passenger (even ticketless) is going to carry an iron rod'”

The railway authorities have now devised a plan to beat back the rowdies. Forty acrylic-covered shields to guard railway men from brickbats have been bought, say officials. “We have also requisitioned the services of polycarbonate batons to launch a counter-attack,” Mitra said, stressing that Chetana will continue to target ticketless travellers.

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