Nearly 500 hawkers in Howrah station will go on a 12-hour strike on February 20 to protest alleged atrocities unleashed on them by the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Government Railway Police (GRP) for years.
Representatives of various left trade unions, including Citu, CPM’s labour arm, attended last Monday’s meeting, addressed by state transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and other union leaders. Chakraborty was said to have criticised the railway forces for their harassment of hawkers.
Several hawkers alleged on Wednesday that police personnel on duty at the station forcibly collect bribes for allowing them to ply their trade. “Those who fail to oblige are regularly harassed on some pretext or the other. Our protests have so far fallen on deaf ears,” complained Damri Shaw, of the Citu-affiliated hawkers’ union.
Shaw alleged that the rate of payment became almost double whenever a VIP passed through the station. “If we pay them Rs 15 a day, it becomes not less than Rs 30 when security is tightened for a VIP’s visit.”
Samir Das, another Citu hawker of newspapers, alleged he had to supply free dailies to the railway policemen, apart from cash. “Fed up with all this, we have decided to go on strike,” he asserted. Citu leaders, including secretary Mrinal Das, warned that they would take up a more intensive movement if the proposed strike failed to yield “results”.
However, GRP officials denied the charges and said the hawkers were evicted from time to time to keep the station free from encroachment. “Let them submit a specific case in which a GRP man has taken a bribe. We shall take appropriate action,” said a senior official.