What if I was a bomber on a jam-packed local train? (Fifth in a series on how safe is the Indian capital)

December 12th, 2008 - 12:41 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 12 (IANS) A lifeline for thousands of office-goers and students commuting to and from Delhi, local trains are a frighteningly easy terror target. The realisation came to me as soon as I boarded a jam-packed train for a 20-minute ride into the city.Given our poor police-people ratio I know it is impossible to guard every train or every inch of every station. But I still felt vulnerable.

There was not a single uniformed policeman in sight when I entered the Anand Vihar railway station in east Delhi to board the train early one morning.

The Anand Vihar railway station is being revamped to become a mega railway station. The area is also important as it will have a metro station; and there is already an inter-state bus terminus operating there.

But there was no one to check or frisk the scores of people trooping in along with me into the train going towards New Delhi. There were lots of people coming from towns adjacent to the national capital, everybody had bags slung around, and some villagers had huge cloth sacks packed with god knows what. No one had had his or her belonging checked, just like me.

Worried over the lack of security, I struck up a conversation with a young college girl, Shruti Jindal, standing next to me.

“Aren’t you alarmed at not seeing any policeman around?” I asked hesitatingly.

“Have you just started travelling in local trains?” she replied with a sarcastic smile. “Rarely do we find a security man on these local trains. It is surprising that even after the Delhi and Mumbai attacks, as well as the serial blasts on Mumbai locals, security on these trains is so lax.”

By now, the train was approaching Patparganj and slowing down.

Some others tried to clamber on while the train was still moving. I asked a fellow passenger if this was a common occurrence.

“Of course. People regularly climb on to the train whenever the train stops here in case the track ahead is not clear,” said Ram Kumar, a regular commuter.

The train then picked up speed and crossed the Yamuna river, the Pragati Maidan exhibition ground station, and reached the Tilak Bridge station, near the ITO crossing, where it stopped.

It halted for less than a minute, during which hundreds got off and many boarded the train.

The thought was inescapable. Anyone could have planted an explosive and escaped in the teeming crowd. I comforted myself thinking that people are pretty aware now and looked around. Everybody was immersed in discussing the elections, their office politics and their relationships. No one seemed bothered.

Looking out of the train at the Tilak Bridge Station, I saw only hawkers and teeming crowds waiting for their trains and no comforting men in khaki. True, the plainclothesmen might be there and policemen are not always the most reliable, but the sight of some would have helped dispel the lurking insecurity.

A couple of minutes later, my train reached the Shivaji Bridge station, which is quite close to Connaught Place, and I alighted.

I looked around the station and finally spotted a lone policeman, sitting on a bench. There was no frisking at this station too.

Thousands commute to Delhi daily from adjacent cities such as Meerut, Ghaziabad, Sonepat, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Rohtak and Panipat. Nearly 100 such trains run every day, according to a Northern Railway official.

Adding to the statistical inputs, Delhi Police estimates that there is one police official for every 300 citizens. Not very encouraging, I thought.

Asked about the security in these trains and stations, a senior Northern Railway official requesting anonymity, said: “It’s not practically possible for us to guard every single coach and station. The shortage of security personnel is hampering our work and adding to our problems.”

Though the 20-minute trip highlighted the huge chinks in our security armour, it also made me realise that security agencies alone cannot do anything. Citizens need to be on alert and be equal partners in securing the country.

It sounds grim, but I also think I know why people wish each other a happy and safe journey.

(Mayank Aggarwal can be contacted at mayank.a@ians.in)

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