|Passengers at Tatanagar station on Sunday.
Picture by Animesh Sengupta
Democracy at the cost of your safety? The answer is, unfortunately, yes.
Most long-distance trains in the Maoist-hit Chakradharpur division are plying without escort parties because RPF, GRP and RPSF jawans have been taken away for election duties.
Tatanagar SRP Mritunjay Kishore conceded that barring “a few important ones”, no other passenger train was being provided security since the Lok Sabha elections began.
“We were already facing manpower crunch. However, following directives from the Election Commission, we sent as many railway police personnel as we could. As a result, escorting trains has become an even more difficult proposition,” he said.
Armed escorts are needed for over 40 passenger trains, including over a dozen long-distance ones, passing through Chakradharpur every day. “A considerable stretch of this railway division is rebel-hit, while there are several pockets where chances of robberies remain. Hence, escorts are a must,” the SRP explained.
Normally, a train security team must comprise 20 railway police personnel. Currently, only five trains are being provided with escort parties, each comprising only 12 members, albeit not every day.
Paramjit Singh, a resident of Burmamines who returned to the city on the Puri-New Delhi Utkal Express on Saturday, admitted that he felt the jitters. “When you are travelling with your family, you'd want armed jawans around on Maoist routes. I cannot deny we were scared when we found no escorts till Tatanagar,” he said.
Dilip Kumar of Kagalnagar, Sonari, who reached by Howrah-Samleswari Express on Saturday, sounded equally anxious to see no RPF guards on the train. “Every time, the train stopped at a small station between Kharagpur and Tatanagar at night, we woke up. Fear is human.”
According to RPF commandant (Chakradharpur) Arun Kumar Chaurasia, a company (120 personnel) each of RPSF, RPF and GRP are usually engaged to escort trains.
“Since the first week of April, the strength has been reduced to less than 50 per cent because the entire special force company and several RPF and GRP jawans are assisting the polls,” he said.
The commandant maintained that except for the Howrah-Pune Azad Hind Express, which crosses Chakradharpur division at night, no other train was getting regular escorts.
“In the wake of Maoist activities and shortage of railway police personnel, the state police have been urged to provide escorts along Chakradharpur division at random basis. But, it is true that most trains are not getting any at present,” Chaurasia said, adding that the crunch situation was expected to continue for the next fortnight or so.