Coming and going: Impoverished railways struggle to keep Eid security on track

Platforms are flooded with people and cargo but checks are few and far between.

Noman Ahmed August 25, 2011

KARACHI: Security for Eid has been enhanced at the Landhi, City, Kotri, and Hyderabad railway stations with 90 commandoes in addition to the regular railway police escorts.

The railway police have one explosives detector and three bomb defusing experts, five metal detectors, five walk-through gates and a lone closed circuit camera for the entire division, said Senior Superintendent of Railway Police Muzaffar Ali Sheikh, who is also in charge of the Karachi division which stretches to Tando Adam.

“We are helpless when it comes to keeping up with the new trends in crime,” he admitted solemnly. “We don’t have enough funds, personnel, training, technology… anything.”

The Karachi division, which almost includes half of Sindh, has eight police stations and 11 check posts with only 1,350 officers and personnel. Sheikh wants his force to be doubled. They last got an increment on September 4, 2003. “We can produce three or may be four bullet-proof vests for them,” the SSP wryly added.

Of particular worry is cargo loaded from the Karachi Cantonment and City stations as well as the Hyderabad station as none of it is scanned. Most of it is spread throughout the stations. “The overall security at the stations is pathetic,” said the SSP. “At present, the precaution of luggage scanning can only be taken for the Thar Express which leaves for the Indian border once a week.”

While no attacks have been reported recently, the railways police is always worried about insurgents blowing up the tracks. There is bitterness on this account as well. “As opposed to what is being done for other law enforcement agencies, we just have a few vehicles,” complained Ghulam Qadir, a railway policeman positioned at Karachi City railway station. He also complained that the police of other agencies are paid twice as much. According to Manzoor Razi of the workers’ union, a railway police constable starts earning Rs7,000. The regular police, on the other hand, now receive Rs14,000. Commenting on this, SSP Sheikh said that the allowance for the regular railway police escorts has not been paid for a long time.

So far the government has approved Rs10 billion to fix the country’s cash-haemorrhaging railway system. But the SSP claimed that the amount was not even enough to increase the number of locomotives from 50 to a hundred.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th,  2011.


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