Security on the wrong track in Old Delhi station

Despite having faced many a terror act, the Indian Railways have not woken up to the reality. This could be gauged from the fact that the hi-tech baggage screener installed on platform No 1 in the Old Delhi Railway Station for Samjhauta Express has been lying defective for almost 11 months now.

The bi-weekly vehicle to Lahore, with a changeover of trains on either side of the border, was a victim of attack in 2007 that claimed about 70 lives. Raids have led to the seizure of heroin and a large cache of ammunition.

Since August, the equipment has been lying idle and screening is managed by the truncated version of the X-Ray baggage scanner, which the Railway authorities themselves consider unreliable.

No effort was made to repair it even after the Centre warned of attacks after the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and Hyderabad blasts. Repeated reprimands from the Railway Ministry failed to spur the Northern Railway into action. Immediately after the Hyderabad blasts, the Ministry shot off a letter and followed it up with a reminder to the Northern Railway General Manager in March to get the machine repaired at the earliest.

The GM was also directed to meet the requirements of the Railway Protection Force and the security agencies to strengthen the existing system. But that seems to have had a little impact.

RPF officials posted at the Old Delhi station told The Hindu nothing had been done to repair the machine so far.

The breakdown of the scanner is just symptomatic of the malaise that afflicts the integrated security scheme (ISS) drawn up to strengthen the surveillance mechanism at sensitive stations to thwart the nefarious designs of divisive forces and ensure the safety and security of railway premises, trains and passengers.

The implementation of the Rs. 353-crore ISS scheme covering 202 sensitive stations has been tardy as a result of which these stations continue to be vulnerable targets for troublemakers.

The project providing for installation of Internet protocol-based CCTV surveillance systems, access control, personal and baggage screening and bomb detection and disposal system has not taken off. It was found that 11 zonal railways had just about awarded contracts covering 82 sensitive stations, while the other zones were yet to finalise the tender. The reasons for the delay were attributed to difference of opinion between chief signal and telecom engineers and the scurity department and lack of funds. The authorities have promised to make available funds this year in view of the urgent security reasons.

The unfilled vacancies in the RPF raise a question mark over the seriousness of the railway brass towards security. About 13,480 posts are lying vacant, with the force’s actual strength being 61,058 against the sanctioned 74,538.

The vacancies, officials have admitted, are affecting the performance of the RPF, which is entrusted with the tasks of identification of explosives and preventing terror and Naxalite attacks on the Railways.

In 2011, applications have been invited to fill about 12,000 constable vacancies and over 510 sub-inspector posts but not much has been done to expedite the recruitment process and make these hands available to the RPF.