Alarmed by recurring train derailments caused by suspected sabotage, particularly in UP, the Indian Railways are looking at ways to ensure better utilisation of the short-staffed force by allowing them to focus on its core functions of ensuring passenger security.
The RPF, the Government Railway Police, and state police form the three wings of rail security apparatus. Over the past decades, the departments have been reported to have worked at cross-purposes on account of conflict over powers and responsibilities. Initiatives taken to bring rail safety under the charge of a single police force have not materialised.
“We are focusing on the need to ensure better coordination between the different agencies for ensuring that sabotage cases do not happen,” said SK Bhagat, RPF director general.
In the past two months, the ministry of home affairs convened two meetings with top officials of RPF and state police to work out a fool-proof mechanism on train safety, with home minister Rajnath Singh chairing one.
After the derailment of eight coaches of the Meerut-Lucknow Rajya Rani Express last week, focus in the railways ministry has reverted to the need to employ resources in RPF to guard trains and rail properties.
Security preparedness has also been compromised due to the shortage of staff in RPF. Against its sanctioned strength of 68,000 personnel, currently 12,000 vacancies exist.
In the recent UP elections, 60 companies or around 7,000 personnel were placed on duty. An additional 800 personnel and sniffer dogs have remained deployed for the past months for the RPF Investiture parade that was held on March 21.
Around 8,000 RPF jawans are reportedly posted at the residence of officers.
Of the 12,000 passenger trains plying each day, only 2,500 are guarded by RPF escorts. The GRP guards an additional 2,200 trains.
“The RPF has neither legislative backing nor bench strength for train escort duties or for carrying out core functions. Deployment of RPF constables at residences of officers is a criminal waste of resources. Such functions should be farmed out to private security guards as recommended by the 7th Pay Commission,” said US Jha, general secretary, RPF Association.