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What makes Mumbai vulnerable to rail rokos?

While incidents in the recent past suggest so, experts want the railway authorities to ensure it doesn’t become a trend.

mumbai Updated: Mar 21, 2018 00:30 IST
Kailash Korde
Kailash Korde
Hindustan Times
Stranded commuters at Dombivli.
Stranded commuters at Dombivli. (RISHIKESH CHOUDHARY)

Is blocking the suburban railway network an easy way out for protesters to get their demands fulfilled?

While incidents in the recent past suggest so, experts want the railway authorities to ensure it doesn’t become a trend.

According to railway officials, Mumbai’s suburban network has witnessed several protests recently over improvement of railway services or reaction to incidents such as Bhima-Koregaon. But Tuesday’s protest was different. The blockade to demand jobs for railway apprentice and increase in quota meant for them was led by very few people from the city, with most coming from areas such as Bhusaval, Jalgaon, Nandurbar of Maharashtra, and other states such as Bihar, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, said experts.

For more than three hours, protesters held suburban commuters to ransom, with trains piling up between Matunga and Kalyan, and Dadar to CSMT. Sixty-eight services were canceled. The result: What the protesters could not get in a year was obtained within hours. Railway trainees have held agitations in Delhi, Gorakhpur, and Bhusawal over the same demand. But their issue was never addressed. On Tuesday, they got a written assurance, forcing railway minister Piyush Goyal to call an urgent meeting to look into their demands.

Also, more worrying was how none of the security agencies realized that such a large number of protesters had gathered at Dadar-Matunga, which is one of the major centres in the city, said experts. Despite CCTVs on station premises, agencies and railway administration learned about it only when they stopped trains on all four tracks of the main line of the central railway, hassling lakhs of commuters.

More than 75 lakh commuters travel take the 3,000 services on Mumbai’s suburban network (both CR and WR) daily. A disruption of even 10-15 minutes affects lakhs of commuters.

Subhash Gupta, a passenger activist, said this agitation was unique. “It is an example of intelligence failure. The railway administration, too, has failed,” said Gupta, adding security agencies need to deal with such incidents strongly.

“A couple of years ago, protesters wouldn’t get on to the tracks, fearing strict action, but that is not the case nowadays,” Gupta said.

Railway officials fear that the incident, reminder of Gujjar agitation, could become a trend. “Such attempts of paralyzing Mumbai’s lifeline should be discouraged immediately. Otherwise, it will become a trend,” said an official.

Transport expert AV Shenoy said it is easy to hold Mumbai to ransom because of the city’s overdependence on a suburban system which has become its lifeline. “If it stops because of any reason, the city gets choked. Mumbai needs effective alternate transportation systems such as Metro and BEST buses,” he said.

There is a need for political consensus on such issues. “Political parties should come together and decide about it,” he said.