Built to provide comfort to commuters, the new building at Sealdah railway station has, instead, turned into a haven for vagrants and urchins, who spend a comfortable night there.
Passengers, especially those on night trains, find the new building unsafe and have lodged several complaints with the authorities. “This has developed into a major problem. The ground floor of the new building has been taken over by these vagabonds and urchins,” admitted Dulal Chandra Mitra, divisional railway manager, Sealdah. “We have requested the Government Railway Police (GRP) several times in the past to clear the zone, but these people just cannot be evicted,” Mitra said.
GRP officials said it was not their sole responsibility to remove these encroachers.
The three-storeyed new complex, on 50,000 sq ft, cost Rs 11 crore to construct. It was built to replace the old double-storeyed South Section station building, which developed several cracks and has been deemed unsafe by the authorities.
Machines have been introduced to clean the complex, with the mechanical jets washing away all the litter. “It costs more than Rs 1.5 lakh a month to operate these machines, but the vagrants dirty the place almost immediately after it is washed clean,” divisional railway manager Mitra said.
Officials say these encroachers also draw power illegally. “At night, we switch off the platform fans to check misuse of power, but these vagrants switch them on again to enjoy a good night’s sleep,” claimed Mitra.
He feared a spurt in crime in the station complex because of these encroachers. “Recently, we intercepted a woman carrying country-liquor bottles in her bag. Such incidents are repeating themselves a little too frequently,” Mitra added. Some new benches, erected on Platform No. 5, have been occupied by these vagrants “to raise a family on”.
GRP officials said there was no lack of effort on their part. “We undertake drives to throw out these vagabonds from the station time and again. They reappear after a few days,” said Gangeswar Singh, superintendent of Railway Police (Sealdah). “However, eviction is not our responsibility alone. The Railway Protection Force joins us in the drive,” he added.
Railway officials said another major area of concern was the recent increase in the number of drug addicts who throng the parking area of Sealdah station. The area, off the vomitory of the newly-built passenger subway to Bipin Behari Ganguly Street, is the hub of drug-related activity, the officials claimed.
Most of the addicts are from the suburbs. They take up jobs in the tea-stalls and food kiosks around the station, earn Rs 30 to 35 every day and spend a third of their income on drugs, the officials said.