Are railway passengers sitting ducks?

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The recent incident on Piravom road, Kerala, where a bomb was placed on the rail track and remained there undetected, for close to nine hours, is an eye opener for railway police and authorities.

The current security scenario is alarming as it is easy to get access to platforms through unofficial entry points even in key stations like Ernakulam Junction, not to mention rail tracks.

“Currently there are ten to 12 points through which people can enter the station. Many use these to travel ticketless especially in local trains. We have our limitations as there is acute staff shortage; still we make it a point to deploy at least two to three security personnel there,” a railway police official said.

Though trespassing on the tracks is a crime under Section 147 of the Railways Act 1989, there is hardly any mechanism or personnel to enforce the law, especially in the state. The authorities admit they can do little as building a compound wall or erecting fences all along the path is not feasible due to the huge expense and protest from local people.

It is high time that authorities think of innovative ways like availing the service of student police cadets or the co-operation of local bodies on the lines of ‘Janamaithri’ police in monitoring trespasses.

“Another concern is the number of trespass deaths everyday. Places like Chovvara (between Aluva and Angamaly) and Edapally regularly witness such incidents as people use the tracks like a regular path with no other option. Even in places where there is a foot overbridge, many prefer to cross the tracks. The need of the hour is awareness among people not to enter the tracks,” the official said.

According to former railway board member Kumaran, the railways should use hi-tech machines to keep effective surveillance, especially in vacant areas.

“This is a country-wide problem and the railways should use satellite imaging or similar techniques to keep a watch over vital installations (like bridges). The Railway Testing and Research Centre has already moved towards this,” he said.

Last week’s incident of the bomb near the Piravom road Junction has prompted railway police to sanction an additional 50 personnel in the division.

“We have started night patrolling in key areas like Piravom and also in mid-sections which have major road approaches. However the measures are short-term in nature – the Onam season to be precise,” an official said.

Railway police also intensified monitoring of stations in the Malabar region ahead of the Onam season by deploying plainclothes police. They are also conducting surprise checking on suspicious persons to prevent crimes and put in place a system to ensure the safety of commuters.

“Railway police has deployed around 120 policemen in various railway stations in Kannur, Kasargod and Calicut. Around 200 cases have been registered so far in a special drive as part of the Onam season,” said circle inspector A.K. Babu.

Commuters, though, are not to be taken into confidence by the short-term measures. “Authorities should be maintaining a vigil against such terror acts henceforth,” says Soosaiya Karunalayam, a retired government employee based in Thiruvananthapuram.

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