The arrest of a toy seller who sold his wares on trains, after a video of him mimicking and mocking politicians went viral, has made national headlines.
Avdesh Dubey was arrested by the Railway Protection Force (RPF) from Surat last week and charged under several sections of the Railway Act, including section 144 (prohibition on hawking and begging), 145 B (committing nuisance or using abusive language in railway carriage) and 147 (unlawful entry into train), among others. Dubey was sent to judicial custody for 10 days, but later released on bail.
His arrest has raised questions about whether Dubey was being penalised for illegal hawking or because he mocked politicians.
However, data from Indian Railways’ Pune Division shows that the arrest of illegal vendors, who are ubiquitous on trains and have become an integral part of the railway experience, is not uncommon.
The vendors often face penalty and arrests from RPF men under various laws preventing illegal hawking on trains.
This year, by the end of May, as many as 351 unauthorised vendors selling various goods and food items were nabbed and penalised by the Indian Railways in the Pune Division. A total fine of Rs 4,69,800 was also collected from them.
“Illegal vendors are a nuisance and they also rob authorised agencies of their revenue. Most of them enter the train only after the train departs from Pune junction. When the train reaches the next station, they manage to enter the sleeper coaches and sell the products. Whenever we get complaints, we take action when the train reaches the next station and impose a fine on them,” said a senior official from Pune Division.
Every day, three to four illegal vendors are nabbed by the RPF on different railway stations in the Pune Division, said the official.
“Recently, in Satara, when a passenger tweeted about an illegal vendor, our RPF team in Satara immediate reached the coach and took action. The vendors were selling loose food items” said the officer.
According to data provided by RPF, “In January, 39 illegal vendors were nabbed. Similarly, in February 71, March 84, April 105 and May 52. The number of offenders nabbed in April was high compared with other months. In the first week of this month (June), RPF has nabbed eight illegal vendors. Most of them sell food items, water bottles, toys and items of daily use”.
In the past, the Railway administration has tried various ways to keep a tab on illegal hawking in station areas and on board the trains, such as asking the hawkers appointed by authorised contractors to wear a badge or an uniform.
However, Harsha Shah of Railway Pravasi Group, claimed that the action taken against the hawkers was merely a “token” gesture.
“The railway protection force personnel collect protection money from them… and let them operate without any hindrance. Sometimes, due to pressure, they conduct token action against the vendors, who are then arrested and penalised,” alleged Shah.