Recently, during a meeting, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal confirmed that his ministry is considering a proposal for transferring the Railway Protection Force (RPF) from Railways to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Probably, the assertion behind this move is that when Railway’s finance is with the finance ministry, why is it that the Railways continue to hold the responsibility for security of the passengers and railway properties. This news comes at a time when there has been a peak in railway accidents involving foreign terror outfits. This move will draw different reactions—from excited to anxious.
The move presents an excellent opportunity of centralizing different types of security personnel. This will allow MHA to curtail rail accidents involving terror outfits, both domestic and international, as it will find itself able to handle such security questions in a more holistic manner. It would also help railways to resolve the issue of tight associations formed between the railway security forces and local groups. These associations are so strong that they influence transfer and posting of the security personnel — cultivating indiscipline in railway security services. Under MHA, any security agency is banned from forming any kind of association.
It is felt that the move to bring RPF under the umbrella of MHA will also help modernize the force and enhance its effectiveness as more posts will be created and more funds will flow in. The move to transfer RPF to MHA will also make way for bringing in the concept of federal policing with one security agency for all of railways. At present, the offences of theft of railway property are being looked into by the RPF while the law and order, which is a state subject, is being dealt with by the Government Railway Police (GRP). The transfer to MHA will also enable the RPF to conduct investigations in an impartial manner without the fear of being accountable to the railway administration in case of conflict of interest. The move would benefit Indian Railways balance sheet as well because it incurs around Rs 500 crore annually on the RPF and RPSF. Hence, Bibek Debroy Committee’s recommendation that MHA should hold responsibility of railway safety sounds good. But, every coin has two sides and its applicable here as well.
The other view is that since passenger pay to the railways for utilizing its services, it would be better if its security is vested with the railway authorities. Else, we may come across incidents such as the one that happened recently in Delhi where railway authority washed off its hands from passenger’s safety. In this case, the railways held the position that it was not liable to provide security to its passengers in cases of track sabotage by local insurgent groups—hence, ensuing a blame game with the state security. I am singling out the railway authorities because they hurriedly label any kind of rail accident as prima facie result of track sabotage (sometimes within an hour of accident). Such blame game tactics have high probability of occurrences when there is state and central government ruled by different political parties.
I would like to add that in a majority of running train incidents, it has been found that location coordinates of the crime are concentrated at inter-state borders. This highlights the robustness of my theory of evasion from responsibility by the railway authorities. Hence, the railways should ensure a uniform safety and security system for its passengers rather hiding behind state-centre subjects. Like air passengers, there should be a move to ensure insurance of the passengers availing railway tickets (reserved and non-reserved). It would help railways to come out of the financial burden which has forced them to hand over the safety and security into the hands of MHA. Hence, to avoid such tossing around of accountability as has been witnessed in the past by the Railway authorities’, transferring of the baton to MHA is a move in the right direction.