On September 29, during the stampede on the staircase of the foot overbridge at Elphinstone Road station on the Western Railway (WR), there was confusion in the job roles of the Government Railway Police (GRP) and the Railway Protection Force (RPF), according to the latter.
In the absence of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), the confusion between the job roles of the two security forces of railways becomes more pronounced, especially during a crisis, it said. In a letter written by RPF Director General Dharmendra Kumar to Director General of Police, Maharashtra, Satish Mathur, dated October 10, 2017, he has pointed out that “overlapping in many areas” during the day to day functioning of GRP and RPF causes confusion in the rank and file of both.
“The GRP and RPF have been entrusted with the task of providing security in the railway area including railway stations and trains. While their legal powers are clearly defined, field formations of both organisations find their roles overlapping in many areas during their day to day working. This causes confusion in the rank and file of both forces,” the letter states.
“In the absence of a Standard Operating Procedure, this confusion becomes more pronounced during a crisis. The recent stampede at Elphinstone Road station is a prime example,” according to the RPF DG. The letter makes a mention of Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal’s meeting with senior officers of the Indian Railways and the Government of Maharashtra on September 30 (a day after the stampede) and states the need of a proper codification of duties of both the forces.
“According to the footage of the incident captured on CCTV, an RPF official is seen rushing to offer help during the crisis. However, he was unable to do much as he stood at the landing of the staircase. The GRP and RPF are now manning the bridge to ensure crowd movement remains linear,” a senior WR official said.
On September 29, sources from railway police confirmed, officials of the GRP and the city police were at loggerheads on registering a case. It was argued that the accident happened on the “last step” of the staircase of the bridge, and as the area falls outside the railway premises, the case must be handed over to the local police.
A committee has been formed under Commissioner of Police (Railways) Niket Kaushik to examine the roles and responsibilities of the GRP and RPF and suggest proper codification of duties. Pranav Kumar, Director General and Additional Chief Security Commissioner, Central Railway and Paramshiv, Director General and Additional Chief Security Commissioner, Western Railway will be the other members.
“The committee can suggest a shared Standard Operating Procedure to be followed by both the agencies in case of exigencies like a bomb threat, threat of terrorist strike, large scale law and order disturbance, stampede, terror attack and others. The committee’s suggestions could be implemented initially for the Mumbai suburban railway network and later across the country if found suitable,” according to Kumar’s letter.
Senior RPF and GRP officials have always maintained that there was confusion in the job responsibilities of the forces. While the GRP is primarily concerned with cases including murders and major dacoities on railway premises, RPF handles cases related to thefts and robberies.
“Though there is a legal demarcation of duties of both, there is confusion in their implementation. From crowd control to monitoring at stations, the law calls for scrutiny by the GRP. However, RPF is deployed to do so once GRP asks for the same,” a senior RPF official said. “Codifying the duties of GRP and RPF is a step in the right direction. At the end of the day, railway commuters may not understand who these two forces are as they will only expect work and help from them…,” said Paramshiv. When contacted, Mathur said he did want to comment.