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Railway a Soft Target for Maoists

Dr. P. V. Ramana was Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • December 20, 2007

    A little before dawn on December 12, 2007, Naxalites of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) blew up railway track at two different places in Bihar – the first one near Bhalui halt station on Jhajha-Kiul section of East Central Railway, disrupting train services on the Patna-Howrah main line and the other on the single line between Kajra and Urain stations on Kiul-Jamalpur section of Eastern Railway. Train services were severely affected in these sections and at least 15 trains had to be halted at different places for varying duration, causing inconvenience and hardship to innocent passengers, and financial loss to the Railways.

    Apparently, the rebels were seeking to avenge the death penalty awarded to five of their colleagues –– Ashok Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Naresh Yadav, Dhaneshwar Yadav and Suresh Yadav. A Fast Track Court in Banka district had, on December 6, awarded the death sentence to the five Maoists for killing three policemen and injuring three more at a temple in Gaura village on November 3, 2005.

    The Railways have become a soft target for the Maoists that include attacks on Railway Police Forces personnel. According to the author’s databases on Maoist violence, in 2007 the rebels have made the Railways as their target on at least 25 occasions in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and West Bengal. These include:

    • April 8, 2007: Attack on Howrah-Mokama passenger train near Narganjo railway station, Jasidih-Jhajha section, Asansol division of Eastern Railway, in Bihar, in which two Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel were killed and five more injured. During the attack, the rebels also looted an SLR, two carbines and two pistols from the slain and injured RPF personnel.
    • May 8: Removal of two rail tracks causing derailment of a goods train carrying iron ore, at Nareli in the Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh. The CPI-Maoists also abducted four staff of the train, later released them unharmed after looting their wireless sets.
    • May 27: Blowing up a railway bridge between Bacheli and Kirandul causing derailment of three wagons of a goods train in Dantewada district.
    • June 20: Attack on Kathgodam Express train at a railway crossing near Sonepur station, Saran district, Bihar, in which two RPF personnel were killed and seven persons, including three passengers injured.
    • June 24: Blowing up of railways tracks at several places resulting in extensive damage to the Kirandul-Visakhapatnam railway line in Dantewada district, thus severely impairing the transportation to Visakhapatnam of iron ore mined in the Bailadila mines of the National Mineral Development Corporation.
    • June 27: Damaging and burning Biramdih railway station, Purulia district, West Bengal and rigging the tracks with explosives

    According to information made available to Parliament, in 2006, there were nine attacks on the Railways. In these, the Railways had suffered a loss of nearly five crore on account of damage to railway property; this is besides the opportunity cost for which figures are not available.

    Responding to Unstarred Question No. 3240 in the Lok Sabha, the Union Minister for Railways, on September 6, 2007, said that the Railways had suffered a loss of Rs 3,89,05,000 in 2007, during the ‘economic blockade’ called by the Maoists in late-June 2007. During the ‘economic blockade’ the railways were especially made targets of Maoist violence.

    Such repeated attacks on the Railways were not heard of until 2006. Earlier, there was a lone incident in 1990 in which some 40 passengers were killed when cadres of the then People’s War Group (PWG) set ablaze a compartment of the Kakatiya Express, an inter-city day train––at Charlapalli near Hyderabad. This incident led to resentment against the rebels and severely eroded the sympathy they enjoyed among the people of the State. Sensing the outrage that the incident had caused among the people, the then PWG’s leadership, subsequently, issued a public apology and claimed that the act was inadvertent.

    Clearly, these repeated attacks on the Railways are mindless acts of violence. They demonstrate the violent capacities of the rebels to cause extensive damage to soft targets and affect normal life. Despite the best efforts of the government, it would be virtually impossible to keep secure the entire stretch of railway track in Maoist territory. The best response to these attacks would, perhaps, be to accord the widest publicity in the national and vernacular media vividly explaining the cumulative loss they had caused and the hardship that the people experienced.