Businessman Nandu Gupta, a resident of Noida, fears for his safety whenever he has to travel in trains that pass through Bihar. Gupta had witnessed a robbery by armed criminals nearly two years ago who had looted the passengers of a New Delhi-bound train while it was nearing Patna.
"I always pray before boarding a train that passes through Bihar," says Gupta.
Gupta's is not an isolated case. Thousands of passengers pray for their safety when their trains pass through Bihar, especially in the night. "Recently, a co-passenger warned me against sleeping in the night, while the train was traveling inside Bihar, and he asked me to be on the lookout for armed robbers," says Sanjay Singh, who was returning from Mumbai to Patna by an express train.
In the last two months, nearly a dozen cases of train robberies have been reported in Bihar. Two passengers have been killed by the reckless robbers, while over eight have been seriously injured.
"Kutch bhi ho sakta hain, please bhagwan ko yaad karo ke train sahi salamat Bihar se nikal jaye ( Anything can happen, please pray for your safety till the train leaves Bihar)". This is a common statement made by many regular passengers who travel in Bihar-bound trains.
An official of the Government Railway Police, on the condition of anonymity, admitted that no passenger could be considered safe in long-distance trains, as the armed robbers could strike anywhere and at anytime. "We have been deployed on escort duty in such trains, risking our lives," he said.
Incidentally, the Palamu Express was often described as the 'nightmare express', as it had the dubious distinction of bearing the brunt of the maximum number of robberies between 2004 and 2005.
Most such crimes take place in the Patna-Gaya route, Danapur -Mughalsarai rail section, Mughalsarai-Jhajha section, Gaya-Mughalsarai section, Patna-Kiul rail section, Barauni-Samastipur section and Hajipur-Gorakhpur section of the East Central Railway.
According to a recent report of the National Crime Records Bureau, 51 per cent of robberies on trains take place in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh
"The Patna Rail Police's jurisdiction accounts for 23 per cent of all the crimes on wheels committed throughout the country," the report added.
According to police sources, over half a dozen criminal gangs are involved in carrying out such train robberies in Bihar.
More than 800 trains pass through Bihar every day. The Railways Norms Committee in 1985 had recommended the recruitment of at least 8000 constables to guard the trains, but 24 years later, only 3,149 GRP personnel are deployed for the task.
Acute shortage of personnel results in most trains being unescorted while the others have only four or five armed policemen on board.
According to the statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau, in the last eight years, Bihar recorded 2,076 crimes on trains. They accounted for almost 11 per cent of the crimes reported by the railway police across the country.
Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee has already written to the Home Ministry for the deployment of additional armed personnel in such trains.
A senior official of the state Home Department said that Mamata's request for additional security personnel, for trains passing through Bihar, was a result of repeated cases of robberies and vandalism at Bihta and Lakhisarai railway stations, which have damaged railway property worth crores of rupees.
The Railway Ministry has also requested the state government to take proper steps to safeguard railway property and the lives of the passengers.
Assistant Director General of Railways in Bihar A S Nimbran told rediff.com that an extensive plan is being chalked out to tackle crimes on long-distance trains.
"Now the GRP and the Railway Police Force will jointly provide escorts in the trains for the safety of passengers in trains passing through Bihar," he said
The telephone numbers of all the senior officers have been made public for quick dissemination of information and prompt action.
Deepak Krishna, general manager of East Central Railways, Hajipur zone, said that he had already discussed ways of checking crimes in trains with senior police officials of the state. He stressed the need for better coordination between the GRP and the RPF to ensure hassle-free travel for the passengers.