| One of the injured passengers in the train at New Cooch Behar station. Picture by Main Uddin Chisti
July 24: Two persons were injured and over Rs 40,000 was looted from passengers on the Guwahati-bound Saraighat Express late last night.
A group of seven or eight dacoits had boarded a general compartment of the train at Malda station disguised as passengers. The train left Malda at 1.30am and the mayhem began soon after it crossed Kumedpur in Malda district. After Malda, the train was scheduled to stop at New Jalpaiguri station near Siliguri in Darjeeling district.
“I was deep in sleep and woke up to a blow on my stomach. Before I realised what was going on, more blows rained down on me. I also saw a gun trained on me. They took away whatever cash I had in my pocket,” said Himangshu Biswas, a businessman from Baneshwar in Cooch Behar. “There were no guards and we could not cry for help either for the fear of getting killed,” he added.
Biswas was among the 60-70 passengers who were robbed on the train. The nightmare lasted for almost one and a half hours.
“I woke up on hearing strange noises,” recounted Nabonita Deb, a resident of Farakka who was on her way to Cooch Behar for admission counseling at Uttar Banga Krishi Viswavidyalaya. “I saw a group of youths speaking in Hindi and Bengali and beating up our fellow passengers. They were armed with guns, daggers and lathis. They ransacked our belongings and threatened to kill us.”
Somewhere between Suryakamal (near the Bihar border) and Kanki in North Dinajpur district, the criminals stopped the train by making a passenger pull the chain at gunpoint. They then disembarked and disappeared into the darkness.
“The dacoits were equipped with improvised fire arms and sharp weapons,” said Mahendra Singh Punia, the superintendent of railway police in north Bengal. “Passengers have reported a loss of Rs 40,000 in cash, six cell phones, two gold rings, one gold chain and three wrist watches,” said Punia.
He said two passengers — Jayanandan Singh from Gaya and Chandan Sutradhar from Agartala — were administered first-aid when the train halted at New Jalpaiguri station for an hour.
“There were five Railway Protection Force guards on the train,” Punia said. “It needs to be seen where they were when the robbery took place. We are trying to find out if there was any dereliction of duty on their part.”
He added that he had contacted the police superintendents of Malda and North Dinajpur and railway officials at Islampur and Kishenganj to seek their help in tracking down the dacoits.
The additional chief security commissioner of the Northeast Frontier Railway, D. Kholi, said he has asked the divisional security commissioner, Alok Kumar, to make a detailed investigation into the incident and submit a report to him soon.