NEW DELHI: After tasting victory over the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), the non-UPA Chief Ministers have turned their guns on the proposed Railway Protection Force (Amendment) Bill aimed at giving policing powers for the first time to another Central Government paramilitary force—RPF. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is in the vanguard of this move.
Patnaik has raised the issue with his West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee and Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi. It was Mamata Banerjee who as an ally of the UPA had come out against the NCTC on the ground that it will be an infringement in the powers of the state and tinker with the federal structure of the Constitution. But on the RPF issue the Trinamool Congress leader is on a different frequency that non-UPA Chief Ministers find contrary to her intent to maintain her independent identity outside the UPA, sources said.
In his discussions with Mamata Banerjee and Dinesh Trivedi, the Orissa Chief Minister has questioned the alleged double standards of Banerjee-led TMC opposing the NCTC but piloting the proposed RPF legislation. As the railway portfolio is with TMC, some see it as Mamata's political game plan to interfere in policing affairs across the country and prepare the ground for a bigger role in national politics. Sources close to Patnaik said the move to withdraw GRP from railway premises and stations across the country and empower RPF as the sole organisation to deal with passenger security, including crimes such as theft and drugging in trains and railway stations, will infringe on the rights of the state police.
Last November, the Union Cabinet gave its nod to the proposed RPF legislation on the ground that multiplicity of authorities at railway premises need to be done away with. However, a section of police officers apprehend it is a move to create an “island of RPF dominance” in every state that could give the railway bosses a handle to manipulate things when they need to. Moreover, this nay-sayer section among the police officials feels that giving police powers to RPF could create a dangerous precedent as CISF and other paramilitary bodies too could seek similar powers.
Another anomaly in the proposed Bill is that it is the GRP which has been dealing with crimes at stations and trains while RPF's role is limited to protecting railway properties. Railways have large chunks of land in every state. If it starts controlling those areas through its own police force, it would create serious problems for the state police, sources said. Moreover, while on the one hand RPF is being given policing powers, the proposed Bill says law and order on railway premises will be looked after by the state police, a duality that would fuel confusion.
Quoting data available at National Crime Record Bureau, an officer said a total number of 19163, 20700 and 21912 IPC cases were registered and investigated by GRP during 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively, whereas during the same period only 186, 145 and 175 cases were registered and investigated by RPF.
Patnaik joined the RPF issue after Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi opposed the Centre’s move in a strongly-worded letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in February wherein he said: “The proposed amendment Bill which is intended to confer the powers of State Police Officers to RPF is unwarranted, violation of the Constitutional spirit and blow to federal structure of India. It also usurps power of the state legislature.”