Monday’s unfortunate incident involving 23 year national volleyball player Arunima alias Sonu Sinha has brought into focus this stark reality: Faced with a serious manpower shortage, the Railways Protection Force (RPF) is able to spare just 5000 personnel (less than eight percent of its sanctioned strength) for escorting passenger trains.
The manpower crunch has been aggravated because of the organization’s failure to fill up huge vacancies estimated at 15,000 personnel – besides the decision to deploy 50 companies to the election-bound states including Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Fifteen RPF companies have been deployed in West Bengal alone, sources said.
“The manpower shortage situation is acute”, RPF director general Ranjit Sinha told Hindustan Times.
Of the 11500 passenger trains that criss-cross the 64,000 kilometer network of the Indian Railways each day, only 1275 trains are escorted by the RPF – with an average of 4 to 6 constables on duty in one rake consisting of 20-24 coaches.
Government Railway Police (GRP) personnel are on duty in another 2250 passenger trains.
In terms of the numbers of passengers that the railways transports daily (approximately 2 crore), the RPF presence on trains works out to a miniscule .004 percent!
“Traditionally raised as a force to protect railway property, the RPF has not been able to graduate to take up additional responsibilities of passenger safety”, RPF general secretary Uma Shankar Jha said.
Of its existing manpower strength of 60,000 personnel, an estimated 11,000 constitute the Railway Protection Special Force (RPSF) –not deployed for static duty.
Some 30,000 personnel are deployed for protecting railway property, while approximately 5000 each are placed on duty in offices or at bungalows of senior officers.
Then Railways Minister Lalu Prasad had announced plans to induct an additional 24,000 personnel in the 2004 – a plan that has not materialized.
“Taken together with the training and leave reserves, the constables available for train escort duties are just a handful. We are quite helpless”, a senior RPF official admitted.
Over the years, rail crimes have spiraled. As against 148 cases of loot, dacoity and robbery in trains in 2007, the number shot up to 183 in 2009. Other crimes including drugging and chain snatching have also escalated.
Each year, the railways pay huge amounts to victim passengers. As on date, a whopping 51,514 compensation claims are pending before the railway claims tribunal.