Monday’s daring train heist near Salem in Tamil Nadu has revived the debate in official circles on the question of providing for a single security force for the railways.
Contrary to most railways of the world, including those in the United Kingdom, United States and China, rail safety in India has continued to be jointly managed by the Government Railway Police (GRP) and the Railway Protection Force (RPF).
The theft of Rs 5.78 crore by robbers who cut through the roof of a train carrying bank money from Salem to Chennai on Tuesday sheds light on strategies employed routinely by criminal gangs in the first three decades after the country’s Independence, when the Railways was the major transporter for goods.
Rail crimes have been “passenger centric” in recent years. In March last year, Madhya Pradesh finance minister Jayant Malaiya and his wife Sudha were robbed off cash and jewellery on the Jabalpur-Nizamuddin Express. Earlier, 50 gangsters stormed into the AC compartment of the Lal Quila Express near Bhadui in Bihar’s Lakhisarai district and looted passengers of their belongings. In April 2012, passengers on the Delhi-Bhubaneshwar Sampark Kranti Express were similarly looted off their belongings.
Dacoities of the kind reported from Salem have constituted a small component of rail crimes in recent years. Against 69 cases of train dacoities last year, the number of cases of passenger thefts totalled 17,827. In the first six months this year, 24 cases of dacoities have been reported against 9044 cases of thefts of passenger belongings.
“Trends in rail crimes have changed but not decreased. Unless the root issue of dual responsibilities between the RPF and GRP is addressed, substantial improvements in controlling crimes are unlikely,” a ministry official said.
Last year, railways minister Suresh Prabhu had sought response from state chief ministers on the proposal of empowering the RPF by divesting the GRP of its responsibilities. Several chief ministers, including those from BJP-ruled states, opposed the move.