Gujjar protests derail rail service in India


New Delhi : Tens of thousands of passengers were stranded across the country as 20 trains were cancelled and 27 others were delayed in north and central India due to continued protests by Gujjars, who are demanding tribal status for better educational and employment opportunities.

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"In the wake of the ongoing agitation, we have cancelled 20 passenger trains to avoid any damage to life and property," said Rajesh Khare, a spokesman of Northern Railway.

Among the trains which were cancelled Saturday include Gujarat Sampark Kranti Express, Ashram Express, Jaisalmer Express, Mewar Express, Dehradun Express and Bandra Terminus Express.

"However, Delhi-Mumbai line has been cleared and services have been resumed on this route. We will resume the service after police clear the track," Khare told IANS.

North-Central Railway chief spokesman V. Pandey said at least 27 trains were affected due to the protests and subsequent damage to the tracks.

"Nearly 50 metres of railway tracks were damaged by protestors between Dadri and Azadpur on Delhi-Kanpur line. Train services were affected for nearly five hours due to damage to our property," Pandey told IANS from Allahabad over telephone.

"We have already restored the damaged line and train services on the route have resumed. It's an extremely busy route with 140 pairs of train using this route everyday. We feel sorry for our passengers as they had to face inconvenience due to no fault of theirs or Indian Railways," Pandey added.

Among those trains affected in a major way include Howrah-Delhi Rajdhani Express, Guwahati-Delhi Rajdhani Express, Patna-Delhi Rajdhani Express, Bhubaneswar-Delhi Rajdhani Express (all four Delhi-bound), New Delhi-Lucknow Satabdi Express, Delhi-Patna Swatantrata Senani Express, Shiv Ganga Express and Mahabodhi Express.

Meanwhile, rallies continued in and around the national capital Saturday with angry Gujjars taking to the streets and holding up rail and road traffic in support of their community members in Rajasthan.

Saturday witnessed the fourth straight day of demonstrations here as Gujjars came out of their homes in Ashram area in south Delhi.

Thousands of Gujjars blocked roads and took out rallies also at Keshavpur area in the city's northwest, Bhajanpura in the northeast, Ashram and Sarai Kale Khan in south, Mayur Vihar in east. They burnt effigies of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and burnt tyres on the roads, hitting traffic movement.

But the police quickly moved in and brought the situation under control.

"There were minor protests in our area. There is nothing to worry as the situation is completely under control," said Sagar P. Hudda, additional deputy commissioner of police in northwest Delhi.

The protests that originated May 29 in Rajasthan have now spilled onto Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi.

Five people were also killed and 20 injured Friday in clashes between Gujjars and Meenas in Rajasthan's Dausa and Karauli districts, taking the death toll to 25.

On Saturday, protestors blocked a highway in Sohana, 20 km away from Gurgaon, for a few hours and burned tyres on roads.

The Gujjars in Rajasthan, an indigent community, are demanding tribal status to get reservation in government jobs and get preferential treatment in educational institutions.

"Around 500 people gathered near Tau Devi Lal Stadium (in Gurgaon), burned effigies of Raje and shouted anti-government slogans. They later disappeared after police intervention," Gurgaon Senior Superintendent of Police Hanif Quereshi said.

"The situation is normal. We have deployed 300 paramilitary personnel along with our police force," Quereshi said.

Protests continued Saturday in Faridabad in Haryana and Ghaziabad and Noida in Uttar Pradesh.