Vijayawada-Gudur section which is falling on the Vijayawada Division of SCR is one of the Risky Railway routes on Indian Railways with regular robberies by the trains running in nights. Ironically, DRM/BZA is quite insensitive in containing the menace!
The midnight robbery on the Seshadri Express, near the very same station where a senior women police officer was attacked and robbed four days ago, revealed the gaping gaps in security on trains passing through the dreaded Guntur-Nellore stretch, which has been targeted at will by robber gangs.
In the latest incident, the modus operandi was similar to robberies carried out on this stretch in the past: the train comes to an unscheduled stop, the doors are deliberately or negligently kept open, robbers make an entry, snatch valuables from passengers and make a getaway as the train starts moving again. And then they disappear into the night. Often, authorities learn of the incident only when the train stops at the next station, many kilometres away.
In the Seshadri Express robbery, the train stopped ahead of the Manubolu station in the dead of night. The robbers entered coach S2, brandished knives at a woman, robbed her and got down. They entered coaches S7 and S8 coaches and reportedly snatched some jewellery from another woman but soon got away as the train started moving again.
The Deputy Director of Telangana State Police Academy S.M.Ratna was allegedly attacked and robbed by an unidentified assailant in Nellore district here while she was travelling in a train from Secunderabad to Gudur.
The 54-year-old Superintendent of Police rank officer was assaulted when train was about 5 km away from the Gudur railway station around 9:30 am of broad daylight today on board the Secunderabad-Gudur Simhapuri Express.
According the complaint filed, the assailant struck Ms Ratna and snatched away her gold chain, two bangles, two rings, Rs 2,000 cash and her identity card. While in the act, the robber allegedly hit Ms Ratna repeatedly on her face and fled from the scene. The police officer had completely fainted for few minutes due to severe blows she encountered. She was not carrying her service revolver at that time and she was going from Secunderabad to attend a private function in Chennai, police said.
Ms Ratna told the police that the assailant boarded the train at Ongole station. When the three other railway police officers travelling on her coach got down at the Nellore station, the attacker seized his opportunity and attacked her.
She suffered heavy blows on her face but there were no fractures, police sources said. She was rushed to a hospital in Nellore. She was shifted out of emergency care and is receiving treatment for swellings on the face. She will be discharged within the next two days, the police said.
Based on her complaint, a case of assault and robbery has been registered by the Government Railway Police at the Gudur railway station.
A search is on to catch the assailant. Often, the robbers complete their job in minutes, leaving little time for the passengers or the on-board train security guards to do anything.
The Seshadri Express, a train of 25 coaches, had only three security guards on board. Railway officials dismissed the possibility that the Seshadri and Simhapuri Express train robberies had anything similar.
The latter incident, in which a senior police officer was attacked and robbed, was reportedly perpetrated by a lone robber acting opportunistically.
Being senior most railway official (a public servant) on the Vijayawada Division, DRM/BZA should understand that such repeated incidents in the important trunk route of BZA-GDR section are uncalled for, particularly on a major Railway Division like Vijayawada.
He should also understand that undue bureaucracy he exhibits will not help unless he resolves and contain the issues on his division properly, in time.
Surprisingly, this Public Servant, when contacted over phone, vaguely replied “come and meet me, I will not talk with you on phone” – thus proving once again insensitive to the fact that the call came not from Vijayawada but from a far off place to telephonically inquire about the actions taken to control the robberies!
It is also well known fact that this DRM has not conducted even a single inspection on this section with regard to analysing and fix the vulnerability gaps in passenger security. It was also reliably learnt that till date, DRM/BZA had not even bothered to drive or call Sr.DSC/BZA and the SPs of Nellore, Prakasam, Krishna and Guntur Districts for identifying the root cause of the situations arising repeatedly and regularly, thus leaving the passengers travelling on Vijayawada Division at the mercy of decoits.
Ancient mariners of the Indian Railways are wont to say that train journeys aren’t what they used to be, particularly along the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh. There’s of course the air-conditioning to blame, the sealed windows denying the traveller the romance of watching an interesting landscape roll by. Then there’s the phenomenon of fellow travellers offering you sedative-laced food, thus robbing you, in a manner of speaking, of the pleasure of intimate conversations with total strangers.
But most menacingly, there’s the danger of train robbers who have given the railway lines south from Vijayawada to Nellore a bad reputation, turning these parts into something like the badlands of the Chambal ravines, which were the subject of many Bollywood dacoit movies in the 1970s.
Railway police officers in Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam and Nellore districts have no feeling for railway romance. No ancient bridges excite them, no platform yodellers appeal to them. They just want you to shut the door and go to sleep.
Romance aside, that’s good advice. Police officers tell you that most of the robberies that have occurred on night trains passing through these districts have happened because some unwary passenger, or a recalcitrant romantic, kept the compartment door ajar, allowing the robbers in in the dead of night.
Of course, travellers are likely to say it’s the duty of policemen to keep them safe. For what else are they? If security personnel are to be obeyed, passengers would have to be not less clever than Sherlock Holmes to survive the journey from Guntur through Gudur. They have to look out for what in police parlance are called ‘suspicious characters’, not easy to spot on the Indian Railways. Surely, the uncle sitting next to you can’t be a purveyor of dodgy biscuits?
Then you have to not go to the door and look out into the night beyond and listen to the percussion of wagon wheels. What if the train stopped at a wayside signal and a reformed-but-relapsed crook hopped aboard?
It’s not hard to guess why policemen bristle when asked about train security. They just don’t have the manpower to make journeys secure for everyone. The much-touted posting of armed guards on trains – three for a train of 24 coaches – is a gesture rather than a measure. Plus, it’s not certain that the arms they carry are of any real use when a crook who has snatched an unwary woman’s necklace stops the train, gets down and saunters off into the night even as the armed guard rubs his sleepy eyes and walks up to the stricken compartment from the other end of the train. Not an equal battle.
Moreover, rail travellers are innocents abroad. Once robbed, it’s not until the next station that they can tell a policeman they’ve been done in, by which time the bad guys have retired for the night.
The truth is, the Great Indian Railways are, and have always been, about trust rather than security. When the ancient mariner ventured out into the great beyond, he did so in the belief that strangers on a train are friends for the time being rather than con men and attention diversionists. If the Indian Railways was a microcosm of our society, it was one imbued in trust. That trust is a bit frayed at the edges today, in trains as in society.