June 25: Fear stalks the great Indian Railway Bazaar — the world’s largest government-run surface transport network.
Robbers struck for the sixth time today in less than a month, looting passengers in an air-conditioned coach of the Mumbai-Howrah Mail (via Allahabad). Railway police sources said they made away with Rs 1.5 lakh in cash and valuables and stabbed one passenger, Muhammad Abdul Ansari, from Calcutta.
If the version of the passengers is anything to go by, the needle of suspicion points to a “mysterious” traveller, who was allotted a berth by the travelling ticket examiner midway between Bhabua Road and Sasaram in Bihar. The man — one Feroz Muhammad — who was issued a ticket to Howrah, was nowhere to be found after the heist.
“We did not want anybody to occupy berth 5, but the will of the TTE prevailed,’’ rued Rajesh Khaitan, a passenger of the ill-fated three-tier coach AS1, which was looted on the Mughalsarai-Sasaram section of East Central Railway around 3 am.
According to him, the TTE allotted the berth to a “suspicious-looking” shabbily dressed man, who smoked non-stop and did not have any luggage. “He did not seem the sort who could afford to travel in an AC coach.”
The passengers objected to the allotment, but the TTE was adamant. “He argued that a man without luggage was also eligible to travel,’’ said another passenger, Abhishek Kundu.
Kundu said the TTE left the compartment after settling Feroz in. “At 2 am, the passenger on berth 5 opened the door and let the criminals in.
“We were jolted out of sleep when the robbers demanded that we hand over cash and jewellery. They stabbed a passenger to intimidate us. There were 15 of them, armed with knives and country-made guns. The ordeal continued for nearly half-an-hour, after which they pulled the chain and fled before the train pulled into Sasaram.”
C.R. Das, a Central Industrial Security Force employee deployed in Mumbai port, complained that no one came to enquire about the passengers. “No one bothered to check out why the train suddenly stopped in the dead of the night. We were left to fend for ourselves.”
Das alleged that when the passengers went to lodge a complaint with the Sasaram stationmaster, he failed to arrange for first aid. “He did not even hold back the train to note down the robbery details. He let it go.”
Das said the Government Railway Police did a routine check and blamed the passengers for leaving the door of the compartment open. The Railway Protection Force parroted a programme on passengers’ safety.
“Most of us lost our visas, passports and jewellery. But what matters most is the fear. Now every time we board a train, the memory will haunt us,’’ said a bitter Khaitan.
Seven RPF personnel and the coach attendant have been suspended. Railway police DIG Ramesh Chandra said: “We have a fair idea of the gang and have despatched senior officers to Allahabad and Buxar.”