Howrah station witnessed a peaceful start to the end of the unlicensed porter raj on Sunday. A huge number of Railway Protection Force (RPF), Government Railway Police and Rapid Action Force personnel had been deployed to pre-empt untoward incidents but they did not have much to do following the no-show by the unlicensed porters.
The Railways Act does not allow illegal porters on the station premises. But that remained in the rule book till Sunday, when for the first time the swarm of coolies in blue, green and saffron was nowhere to be seen. Instead, it was only the licensed red shirts who were doing duty.
Railway officials explained that the main hurdle in the way of a tough stand against the unlicensed porters was the political backing they used to enjoy. The 700-odd men in blue, making up the largest chunk of the unlicensed porters, enjoyed CPM support. More than 200 others were backed by the Trinamul Congress and nearly as many by the Congress, officials said.
Efforts were undertaken to evict them earlier but they returned every time. The large number of unlicensed porters was one of the main reasons behind frequent clashes.
Passengers, predictably, were relieved. Bakul Ghosh, a passenger bound for Chennai on Sunday’s Coromandel Express, said the station had got a disciplined look following the disappearance of the unlicensed porters. “These men used to harass passengers and demand unreasonable sums,” he added, echoing the mood of every other passenger around him.
Also heaving a sigh of relief were the licensed porters. “They were greater in number and laid stake to our bread and butter, especially the CPM-backed ones in blue,” a porter, Dinesh Yadav, said.
The unlicensed porters, however, tried to return in the afternoon, but in plain clothes. “These people are smart and we know they will keep trying to come back,” an RPF official said. “But we are keeping a close watch,” he added.