By Ashok Kumar
When a person facing criminal charges in the court of law is inducted into the Union Cabinet by awarding the portfolio of Railway Ministry, then the fat is in the fire. Now, with RJD supremo, Laloo Prasad Yadav as Minister for Railways, it is no surprise that the courage of criminal elements?particularly in Bihar where the RJD is the ruling party?has bolstered. Thirteen incidents of murder, dacoity, looting, molestation of women in moving trains over a month after Laloo´s assuming office?out of which nine occurred in Bihar alone (see Table), stand testimony to this.
In fact, crimes, major and minor, have become such a sad clich? for India´s vast rail network that millions of people who undertake rail journey through the length and breadth of the country, when passing through Bihar are imbued with a sense of insecurity that travelling by train through Laloo´s very own ´lantern-lit´ darkened state could well turn out to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And their apprehen-sion is not unfounded, as, according to a confidential report, prepared at the behest of former Railway Minister Nitish Kumar, Bihar still tops the list of crimes in train and Danapur division is still the most sensitive spot.
The report reveals that the maximum number of dacoities and other crimes are committed in moving trains when they pass through Bihar. In the Danapur division alone, this year more than 20 cases of dacoity have been registered so far, in which four persons were killed and scores of others injured. Here it is to be noted that a lesser number of crimes occur in that portion of Danapur that falls in Uttar Pradesh than that in Danapur portion of Bihar.
What is lamentable is that nothing seems to have changed since the time the report has been prepared. Criminal elements have looted goods and valuables to the tune of Rs 2 crore. Moreover, sources reveal that over 700 cases of dacoity, robbery, murder, luggage theft and others have been registered in the last three years.
The engine and some bogies of the Matsyagandha Express
Train accidents, robberies, murders and poor maintenance make train journey unsafe.
It is not that crimes in moving trains did not occur before Laloo became the Railway Minister. In January 2004, Manish Kumar, a relative of the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, was thrown off a moving train in Bihar. In December last year, women in a group from Sikkim on the Dadar-Guwahati Express were harassed and attacked in Bihar. Earlier, women members of a cultural troupe from Jammu and Kashmir were molested allegedly by RJD´s activists on the Himgiri Express, also in Bihar.This was days after a Naga woman was stripped on the Guwahati-Dadar Express?again in Bihar. But high rates of crimes in trains after Laloo became the Railway Minister, regular and forcible occupation of seats by politicians and goons, all suggest that rail travel is now fraught with even more danger in RJD-ruled Bihar.
The railway services in Bihar, especially on the route from Mughalsarai to Mokamah junc-tion are notorious for crimes, unruly youth and poor security. Gangs of youth and short distance commuters barge into the compartments and evict passengers from their legitimate seats. Also serious crimes, including dacoities, robberies, thefts and vandalism are rampant in this section of the Indian Railways. Of all the railway dacoities in India, almost 51 per cent are reported from Bihar and UP segments. Dacoities under the Patna rail police jurisdiction, covering the Mughalsarai-Mokamah route, account for almost 23 per cent of all crimes according to a recent report by the National Crime Records Bureau. Train robberies, with a few people being killed in the process, is a regular affair in the Bihar-UP area. But the June 8 incident shows that armed conflict between rival gangs may now be played out with impunity in train compartments.
Although security in trains and on platforms is the responsibility of Government Railway Police (GRP), a state police unit, nevertheless, it is the image of the Indian Railways that is adversely affected. Considering that this section is the main route connecting Delhi to Kolkata and the north-east states, the importance of security on this route cannot be ignored. The situation in other parts of the country is marginally better. But, a rail journey, once the safest mode of transport, is now hardly a pleasant experience for commuters.
Once the safest and most common mode of transport, now a commuter´s nightmare
But Laloo is a smart politician, who has sought to deflect attention from the sharp increase in crimes in trains passing through Bihar by introducing the novelty of such trivialities as kullhars, mattha, use of khadi, etc. But no concrete measures have been taken to nab the culprits. What is more painful is that instead of expressing concern over the increasing crimes in trains passing through Bihar or assuring the people of providing adequate security arrangements, the Chief Minister of Bihar, Rabri Devi, the wife of the Railway Minister Laloo, who happens to be the de facto CM of the state, appeared unpertur-bed over the rising graph of crimes when she said that train dacoities happened everywhere.
As if this was not enough to add to the agony of the victims and their families, Laloo, justifying the rise in ´terror on track´ in the state since he took over as Railway Minister, said, ?It had been happening even before I took over.? Such statements do not help at all. Instead, a level-headed professio-nal minister would seriously look into the matter of railway security. Therefore, instead of merely riding roughshod over the growing incidents of crime in trains, our minister needs to evolve a concrete action plan if he wants to turn Indian Railways into a proper, non-dysfunctional, modernised enterprise. But nothing gets done beyond the mere lip service and the reason is that the Railway Ministers?and Laloo is not alone?use the railways to feather their nest.
However, maintaining a balance between the role of RJD´s sole vote-catcher and the Railway Minister may prove to be an uphill task for Laloo. For, on the one hand, many RJD leaders are stressing that he is needed in Bihar more than in Delhi, on the other, the greater challenge lies in restoring the confidence of passengers in the Indian Railways. The passengers must be assured that they will be saved from derailment, sabotage, dacoity, molestation of women, harassment of passengers and other problems while travelling.
Attacks on tracks
- May 25 : Passengers were looted in Sahibganj-Danapur inter-city.
- May 27 : Criminals attacked two second-class reserved compartments in Farakka Express on the Mughalsarai-Patna mainline in the Aara-Buxar division. The criminals looted the passengers and when one BSF inspector challenged them, he was shot dead.
- May 30 : Criminals looted about Rs one lakh in Patna-Palamu Express near Akoda station. However, the passengers caught five dacoits, while the rest of them managed to flee. The money looted could not be recovered from the criminals caught, who were beaten up so badly that one of them died.
- June 2 : Two second-class reserved compartments were looted in Patna-Puri Express. The passengers were also beaten up. Despite the fact that there is no stoppage at Dadpur and also there was no obstacle on the track, the train did stop there, giving the culprits a chance to flee.
- June 2 : The same day a woman passenger was found injured in the bushes near the railway lines between Hazipur and Sonepur. The woman informed that since she did not have the ticket, the ticket inspector threw her out of the moving train.
- June 3 : About 15 armed dacoits carried out a dacoity in Dehradun-Howrah Express. They looted cash and valuables worth Rs 10 lakh, killed one passenger and injured more than a dozen others. Although there was a group of securitymen of the Bhabhua rail station, the dacoity did occur.
- June 8 : Passengers were attacked in Vikramshila Express.
- June 8 : The same day two people were shot dead in an AC coach of Howrah-Danapur Express as the train passed Patna. The daring strike is believed to be a part of a gang war.
- June 16 : Armed dacoits looted Rs 5 lakh in Howrah Express in Shekhpura district. They also injured more than one dozen passengers.
- June 16 : The Mura-Vardhaman passenger train was looted in Aadra near Purulia. Although this area is very criminal-activity prone, there was no RPG jawan in the train.
- June 25 : In the past 24 hours two incidents of robberies took place in Bihar and Jharkhand. A dozen armed dacoits looted valuables worth Rs 1.5 lakh from the passengers of an AC III coach of the Howrah bound Mumbai-Howrah Mail and injured over a dozen people near Bhabhua rail station in the Sasaram-Mughalsarai section.
- June 28 : A 28-year-old youth was thrown out of a running train (Delhi-Saharanpur Passenger) near the Baraut railway station in UP.