By Probir Pramanik, IANS
Mumbai : A year after India's financial capital was rocked by a series of horrific train bombings, security along the city's transport lifeline provides little assurance to the millions who use the suburban network daily.
The deadly explosions that occurred one after another on the evening of July 11 last year killed 186 people and wounded many more – besides wounding a city that however refused to be cowed down. But the men responsible for guarding the trains and railway infrastructure, the Government Railway Police (GRP) and Railway Protection Force (RPF), are still grappling with the same problems they had back then.
The GRP in particular is short of manpower, starved of financial support, desperately in need of training and, most importantly, lacking in motivation to thwart another attack.
The under-equipped force is ill suited for the kind of job profile it has been given – to provide security to a network of over 90 railway stations that handle six million commuters daily, rue GRP officials.
"A force of 3,000 is deployed for security in the stations of Mumbai's suburban railway network. They not only are being flogged to a gruelling 12-14 hour shift, it really doesn't help that they have to ensure safety for more than six million commuters daily," said a GRP official.
Apart from the investigation of petty crimes, half the GRP is deployed for frisking passengers, Some 300 cops guard ladies compartments, 400 are on patrol duty and the rest take care of administrative functions, the official said on condition of anonymity.
"So how do you expect us to patrol the platforms and other points round-the-clock? We are short of manpower by almost half. So why don't you ask the state government to increase the number of policemen to at least 7,000?" the official said, referring to a promise made by Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil in the aftermath of the 2006 attacks.
Though Patil had then announced that the state would recruit 11,000 police personnel, he made no reference to GRP, its officials pointed out.
The police came under widespread attack for their delayed response to the 2006 bombings. It were fellow commuters or those who lived close to the sites of bomb attacks who rushed the wounded to hospitals.
GRP is separate from the general state police and is responsible for security within railway stations and on trains. It is also separate from the RPF, which is with the railways and is responsible for railway property.
Sources in the Western Railway and Central Railway, which operate the three suburban railway networks in Mumbai, told IANS that the railway requirement for more security personnel was an issue that had remained neglected for several years though terrorists have repeatedly targeted the railway network.
"The problem lies in the jurisdictions of RPF and GRP that at times overlap. The issue of passenger safety gets tangled up in knots between the two agencies."
GRP top brass, however, maintains that they are doing their best despite the constraints.
"Post 7/11 bombings, we have been frisking commuters at all stations on a daily basis. Random searches are carried out daily," said Special Inspector General of Police (Railways) A.K. Sharma.
"Besides, metal detectors have also been installed at several important stations and surveillance mechanisms including close circuit televisions (CCTVs) are in use to monitor crowds at the several stations.
"Out of a force of 3,000, we have deployed 1,500 personnel at entrance and exits points in 90-odd stations for frisking passengers," Sharma said.
Though the random searches are to build a deterrence perception, what the GRP personnel woefully lack is proper training in surveillance and expertise to size up suspects.
And to top it all they lack motivation. Low pay and long working hours is conspicuous among the ranks.
"Most GRP constables are recruited on the basis of minimum qualifications. They undergo only a basic training programme. They do not have the expertise for high-end surveillance or to detect suspect terrorists," a senior police officer admitted.
Many personnel on the field too admit to lack of motivation.
"We are overstressed from regular 14-hour-a-day shifts, that too on a paltry salary of Rs.7,000. How do you think we can afford to run a family? Yes, it does effect our work," said a constable at the busy Churchgate rail terminus in south Mumbai.
Commuters too are not convinced of a better security environment.
"All this talk about security is just an eyewash. I am yet to see an alert policeman standing and looking impressive enough to dispel any miscreants. All they do is sit around and chat or read newspapers," said Vishwas Mathale, who commutes daily on the Western Railway.
"They are so unimpressive. How do you expect them to thwart terror attacks?" asked a disgusted Mathale.