Cigarette ban up in smoke in Kolkata stations

November 4th, 2010 - 12:10 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sabyasachi Roy
Kolkata, Nov 4 (IANS) With hundreds of passengers leisurely puffing away at their cigarettes on trains and railway platforms in suburban Kolkata, it is hard to imagine that smoking on railway premises has been banned for more than two decades.

While commuters blame the railway authorities for not enforcing the ban and taking bribes to let offenders go scot-free, officials plead helplessness and cite lack of awareness about the law among passengers.

“We conduct anti-smoking drives from time to time and offenders are prosecuted,” Purusottom Guha, divisional railway manager (DRM) of Eastern Railway’s Sealdah division, told IANS

He admitted it was impossible to keep a daily tab on all train compartments and stations as the employees have other duties to perform as well.

“We run at least 832 pairs of local trains, each having 10 coaches daily. So how do we manage with our present staff strength if we carry out regular anti-smoking drives?” he asked.

Around 1.8 million commuters travel by local trains in Kolkata and suburbs every day.

IANS conducted a spot check in some suburban stations like Bidhannagar, Sodepur, Agarpara, Dum Dum junction, Belghoria and Barrackpore and found hawkers doing brisk business in cigarettes without any restriction.

At big terminal stations like Howrah and Sealdah, which have a heavy presence of officials, there is no smoking or selling of cigarettes. But once trains depart from these places, commuters don’t think twice about lighting up on the train!

When asked why the railways were not taking action against offending hawkers, Guha claimed the cigarettes are available only in private stalls and not in stalls run by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation.

“So we can’t take any step against them,” he said.

Commuters say nothing has changed for years, though Section 167 of the Railways Act 1989 bars smoking on trains and railway premises. Smoking on railway premises carries a fine of Rs.200, which is compoundable and subject to summary trial in accordance with the procedure under the Criminal Procedure Code.

Smoking and selling of cigarettes is common in long-distance trains of Eastern Railway’s Howrah division as well.

A daily passenger on the Howrah-Burwdan main section, Pronab Chakraborty, said: “At every station main line and the chord line, you will find hawkers selling cigarettes and other tobacco products. And daily passengers smoke even in the presence of ticket examiners.”

A senior Railway Protection Force (RPF) officer in Howrah station said: “Our main concern is protecting railway property and providing security to passengers in express trains. It is the responsibility of ticket examiners to enforce the ban, mainly on suburban sections.”

“The ticket examiners collect spot fines for various violations like unbooked luggage and ticketless travel. But they do not book any passenger for smoking. This despite the fact that many passengers continue to smoke in trains and platforms,” added the RPF officer.

Ticket examiners in turn blame RPF personnel for not prosecuting smokers and letting them off after taking bribes.

Eastern Railway spokesperson Samir Goswami said RPF personnel and officials of the railways’ vigilance and anti-fraud departments conduct regular checks to stop smoking and selling of cigarettes on trains and station premises.

“The incidence of smoking has come down now,” he said.

“We are not aware whether any private hawker is selling cigarettes on station premises. In that case, we have to depend on tip-offs before conducting raids,” he said.

Smokers, who also include some railway officials themselves, want the authorities to set up ’smoking zones’ before implementing the ban. “The railways have installed bins at platforms to throw garbage. But where are the smoking zones?” they asked.

Kanailal Phatak, a Burrabazar-based businessman, said: “I travel to Delhi from Howrah every fortnight in Duronto Express. I’m a chain smoker and am in the train for over a day. Is it fair to expect me to go without a cigarette for such a long time? I will smoke inside the toilet, if no other option is available.”

(Sabyasachi Roy can be contacted at sabyasachi.r@ians.in)

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