As many as 170 local train services were cancelled and 1,020 were delayed following ‘rail roko’ protests in different parts of the city as part of the protests by Dalit groups Wednesday.
As protesters gathered and blocked railway tracks at various stations, such as Palghar, Virar, Nalasopara, Dahisar, Malad, Goregaon, Andheri, Mahim, Dadar and Elphinstone Road along the Western Railway, as many as 60 services were cancelled and more than 200 trains were running late from 8 am to 4.30 pm.
“However, efforts were made to provide local trains at regular intervals of every 5 to 10 minutes during peak hours and throughout the day,” read a statement issued by the Western Railway.
As the protests picked up by afternoon, services of the newly-launched AC local were also discontinued owing to safety concerns. “Four services of air-conditioned local train, scheduled in the morning hours were operated as per the time table but afterwards looking to the crucial situation and to ensure safety of newly introduced AC local train as well as of commuters, the rake of AC local train was withdrawn in Mumbai Central Carshed and remaining eight services of this train were cancelled,” the release stated.
There was joint deployment of police, Government Railway Police (GRP) and Railway Protection Force (RPF) on suburban and main lines. “Preventive arrests/ detention were made by GRP/Police with assistance of RPF while removing protesters from the station premises/ track. GRP is registering cases under the Bombay Police Act and provision of IPC… RPF has registered 13 cases under Railway Act of nuisance, obstructing train running against unknown persons in mob of protesters. The offenders will be identified by RPF on the basis of videography of protests and CCTV footage,” added the release.
Meanwhile, 110 suburban services were cancelled on the central line and the remaining 820 trains were delayed by about 20-25 minutes. However, 30 special services were run through the day. Services were disrupted intermittently at Thane, Diwa, Titwala, Vasind and Ghatkopar stations and all obstructions were cleared only by 4 pm.
Meanwhile, both up and down services on the harbour line were also disrupted in the morning due to an agitation at Govandi. According to officials, the services were disrupted 12 times through the day at various stations and 13 cases were registered by the RPF, three of which were filed for the agitation at Goregaon station.
The officials faced a tough time convincing protesters to get off the tracks. “We will conduct an inquiry and check the CCTV footage. There has also been a lot of damage to the railway property during the protests,” said Anup Shukla, Divisional Security Commissioner, RPF, WR.
The station master at Mulund railway station said the last down local that left from Mulund was at 11.30 am after which the next train came at 3 pm. “The fast down line was operating on the central line as it did not halt at Kanjurmarg where protesters had taken to the tracks. However, soon, there were limited trains on the fast line as well. By 3 pm, however, the Central Railway started limping back to normalcy on both up and down directions,” said the station master. Railway platforms across the central line were choc-a-bloc with commuters who had no other option but to wait for the next train as protesters had blocked various roads too.
A senior GRP officer said they followed a three-pronged strategy while dealing with the protesters. “Some of them told us that they just wanted to be on the tracks for 5-10 minutes, click photos and leave. In some cases, we reasoned with the protesters to get off the tracks since they were causing problems to students going for their exams and people who were in emergency situations. In the extreme cases, we threatened them of lathi-charge and told them we would arrest them if they did not get off the tracks,” he added.
The official said the central line was the worst hit. “There were protesters who had blocked the railway lines at Ghatkopar and Kanjurmarg. At Kanjurmarg railway station, they also threw the steel benches on the railway lines. We are in the process of identifying those who damaged public property after which FIRs will be registered,” he said.
Pallavi Lokhande, who was travelling from Kandivali to Churchgate, said, “Since these protesters are disrupting rail services, there isn’t much that the Railways can do to prevent it. But they could at least keep the commuters informed. There was a long disruption at Goregaon station but there was no announcement… When they knew there was a disruption ahead, they should have warned us and we would not have taken the train. So many commuters got down onto the tracks and walked back to the station.”
Suresh Kumar, a Goregaon resident, said, “I was expected to report to work today in Andheri. But when I reached the station, I saw the protesters and returned home out of fear.”