Howrah, Oct. 3: When two nattily dressed men approached Sanjit Roy, a trader from Burdwan, last night at Dakshineswar station and tried to befriend him, he did not take them seriously.
When they offered him tea, Sanjit refused. A while later, they offered him bananas. He sniffed a rat but accepted one and took a close look before peeling it off. A portion of it had been slit fine. He raised an alarm. Two policemen on duty on the platform nabbed the duo.
The police found a pink tablet embedded in the fruit. Bachchalal Sonkar and Jamuna Malli, both middle-aged men, were arrested. Sonkar, the police found later, was wanted in cases of drugging unsuspecting passengers and looting them. The antecedents of Malli, from Varanasi, are being looked into.
The incident, the police said, was the tip of the iceberg. Concerned over rising cases of drugging and looting of passengers in trains, both local and express, the railway police have launched a campaign to make travellers aware of the crime.
“We have already recorded more than a dozen cases in Howrah station this year. Complaints from other stations between Howrah and Burdwan are pouring in. So, we decided to launch a campaign to make commuters aware of the crime,” said Sunil Kumar Mullick, the superintendent of railway police, Howrah.
The government railway police (GRP) in Howrah have issued leaflets to caution passengers. Announcements are being made over loudspeakers in Howrah and other stations up to Burdwan advising caution. Leaflets have also been pasted in local train compartments to warn travellers against over-enthusiastic co-passengers. “Do not accept any food or beverage from unknown and over-friendly co-passengers. They may contain drugs or poison and you may lose your belongings,” read the leaflets in Bengali. Leaflets in Hindi, Telugu and Oriya will be circulated soon.
Mullick said the criminals mostly offer tea, cream biscuits or fruit juices, in which it is easy to mix sedatives.
Early in the morning, late last month, businessman Bhavani Kumar Rao had boarded a local train for Burdwan. “In the train, he befriended a passenger bound for Memari who offered him a cream biscuit. He lost sense moments after the first bite. The police discovered him lying on a bench and took him to Burdwan Medical College Hospital,” said Mullick. Nothing that Rao was carrying remained. “We have come across a number of cases where passengers have been offered drug-laced biscuits,” added Mullick.
The police said many of these gangs are run by former train dacoits. “Drugging passengers and looting them is an easier option,” said Mullick.
Most of those arrested are from villages between Patna and Danapur in Bihar and South 24-Parganas in Bengal.
The police have engaged an NGO to stage awareness plays on the Howrah station premises. Children, including shoe-shine boys, have been picked from the platforms and are being trained to stage the plays.