The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Train-block for seat grab

Burdwan, Aug. 24: Over 400 daily passengers pressing for their right to block seats for their mates with anything from handkerchiefs to playing cards today held Burdwan station to ransom for two hours during the morning rush hour.

A dozen trains, including the Rajdhani, were stranded after eight daily commuters were picked up for blocking seats on a Howrah-bound local and ordering a family out of the compartment.

Complaints about such seat-grabbing, a regular feature in locals and even some inter-city express trains like Coalfield, Black Diamond and Agnibeena, had been pouring in for a long time.

This morning, when the Howrah local entered the platform at 8.32am, railway police personnel in mufti found all the seats of a compartment “reserved” with newspapers, handkerchiefs and playing card packs.

A middle-aged man with his wife and daughter removed the newspapers to sit. “Immediately, the daily passengers rushed in and ordered the man to leave. The man pointed out that the seats were empty but he was rudely told to vacate. Then we moved in,” said an RPF officer.

His team picked up the eight, including a Calcutta High Court clerk, and took them to the RPF outpost.

As word about the action spread, about 100 people started a demonstration in front of the outpost. Three hundred more squatted on the tracks demanding the release of the eight. They also demanded that local train coaches be increased from nine to twelve.

The agitation was withdrawn after the men detained were released at 10.40am.

Station manager Swapan Adhikary said the eight were released “because this was the first such raid at Burdwan station”. “We warned them before release that we will take strong action in the future.”

Falguni Mondal, a resident of Burdwan’s Bhatar who has been a regular on the local for the past fortnight to see his son recuperating from a surgery at Calcutta’s NRS Hospital, appealed to Mamata Banerjee to intervene. “I was not allowed to sit even in a vacant compartment. After I said I wanted to visit my son, they allowed me to go standing. I appeal to railway minister Mamata Banerjee to intervene,” said Mondal.

But Pradip Mondal, one of the eight picked up, appeared unfazed. “The train is ours. It was introduced 12 years ago keeping the interest of daily passengers in mind. We demand the train exclusively for us and three more compartments.”

A senior Eastern Railway official in Calcutta said “the raids would continue”.

The protests inconvenienced thousands and delayed the Howrah-bound Rajdhani, the Poorvanchal Express, Bibhuti Express, Amritsar Mail and others by two hours or more.

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