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November 20, 2017

Indian Railways: Move is on to give policing powers to RPF against letter and spirit of Constitution


Lalit Shastri

RPFThe Railway Board and a number of authorities at the Government of India level are determined to undermine the country’s federal structure and also the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India as there is a concerted move in recent years to supplant the Government Railway Police (GRP) with Railway Protection Force (RPF) by giving it powers for registration of passenger offences under IPC instead of supplementing the GRP, which is a state police organisation and has the constitutional mandate for policing and maintenance of law and order.

Police being a state subject, registration of cases, investigation and maintenance of law and order in Railways premises as well as on the running trains are the statutory responsibility of the state Police. The State Police have a separate wing designated GRP for the purpose.

Earlier the primary function of the Railway Protection Force was confined to protection and security of Railway property, including Railways own assets and the property entrusted for transportation., to remove any obstruction in the movement of Railways and to do other acts conducive to the better protection and security of Railway property under the RPF Act, 1957 and RP (UP) Act 1966. However on the recommendation of the High Level committee on Security of Railways, the RPF Act, 1957 and the Railways Act, 1989 were amended in 2003 and additional responsibility for protection of passengers and passenger areas has been given to RPF.

Under the existing scheme, while the State police continues to police the Railways, the RPF has been given the responsibility, since July 1, 2004 to escort passenger trains in vulnerable areas and provide access control regulation and general security on the platforms in the passenger and the circulation area.

RPF has also been empowered to deal with the minor offences affecting train operations such as alarm chain pulling, roof travel, touting, ticketless travel, unauthorized entry into coaches earmarked for ladies etc. as listed in the Railways Act (except sabotage related offences under sections 150 and 152) by amending the Railways Act. The objective was to relieve the GRP from duties relating to minor offences on Railways so as to utilise the available resources in dealing with major offences under IPC and other relevant Acts.

Instead of strengthening this system, several Central agencies have been moving in tandem after the enactment of the Railway Protection Force (Amendment) Act, 2003. The move to give policing powers to the RPF is against the Constitution and there should be no ambiguity on this count. This was also underlined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways in its 10th Report (2010-11). The Committee recorded that upon the amendment in RPF Act 1957 in 2003, the Railway Protection Force (RPF) have been entrusted with the additional responsibility of security of passengers and passenger area. RPF, since it is not an organisation dealing with policing and law and order, it has not been given the legal power to prosecute the offenders involved in criminal offences like dacoity/ robbery/ theft of passengers’ belongings/ drugging and other crimes against passengers.

The Standing Committee on Railways also brought on record the huge gap in demand and actual availability of RPF personnel to escort all the trains and man the access control at the Railway stations to prevent passenger offences, the Committee pointed out and also noted that to ensure better security of passengers, a “Comprehensive Bill” has been drafted to empower RPF officers, of and above the rank of Sub-Inspector, to deal with IPC offences. This Bill has been approved by the Ministry of Law & Justice. Concurrence of the Ministry of Home Affairs is awaited in this regard and this is where newsroom24x7.com finds a major anomaly because policing is a state subject.

Even in the midst of all talk to give more powers to RPF, the Standing Committee on Railways also recorded that the advancements in Communication technology, as recommended by them, do not find proper place in the operations of Railways. The Committee was appalled to note that the Railway network and property are often threatened by anti-social and anti-national elements, terrorists, etc. While conducting on-the-spot study tours of some of stations, the Committee was dismayed to find that the integrated security system had not been effectively put in place. Except for the odd baggage scanner, door frame metal detectors and the presence of a handful of RPF personnel in the stations, the Committee did not find any noticeable change in the way the security system functioned. The Committee did not find a single hand held metal detector in most of the stations they visited; even at those stations where they were in use, the same was operated in a casual manner, without any professionalism warranted for a serious operation.

No RPF personnel was seen to be manning the metal detectors. Wherever RPF personnel were operating the DFMD, they too failed to stop any passenger and frisk him/her so as to find whether he/she was carrying any contraband or fire arms or lethal weapons which could threaten the safety of passengers and Railway property.

The Standing Committee on Railways earlier in its Fifth Report (2009-10) recorded how during informal discussions with the representatives of the All India RPF Association, the Committee had desired to know whether there was any coordination between the RPF and GRP and the General Secretary, RPF Association had stated that so long as the RPF is weak in respect of legal power, one cannot expect cooperation from a powerful agency.

When the Committee asked for suggestions in this regard, the General Secretary, AIRPFA, stated: “My suggestion is we should have a unified force. Once you have a very powerful agency, then they will cooperate. The district police are cooperating, but the GRP is not cooperating because they want to be there without any accountability.”

On being asked about the coordination between GRP and RPF, the Ministry of Railways informed the Committee in a written reply as under:

“A Committee has been constituted comprising of officers from Railways, RPF, IB and Police. This Committee is deliberating upon the issues involved including better policing and coordination between RPF and GRP. However, it is desirable to have a unified police force to protect Railways, passengers and property of passengers.”

Responding to this, a GRP officer said that AIRPFA office bearer should be told that trains will continue to be on the hit list of terrorists across the world. Experts, he said are unanimous in their view that terrorists should be stopped before they strike their target. Hence it is important, especially given the present security environment and general threat perception, the RPF should focus more on escorting trains and ensuring fool-proof security of passengers and passenger area.

The 14th report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), 2011-12, on Security Management in Indian Railways points out that Government of India is responsible for the Railway system as the Railways are included in the Union List of the Constitution of India. In the same context even this report underlines the constitutional position by pointing out that item 1 and 2 of the State List in Schedule VII of the Constitution of India makes the State Government responsible for maintenance of law and order on Indian Railways. While highlighting this the CAG has said: The responsibility for maintaining law and order within the station premises and on trains is handled by the Government Railway Police (GRP) under the control of the State Police. Law and order outside the station premises is the responsibility of the State Police. While pointing this, the CAG however goes on to conclude that the existing mechanism of policing is not effective in handling railway related crime, where the affected party (passenger) and the offender are both mobile. Problems exist especially in passenger security as a train passes through many state boundaries in a short time leading to changes in jurisdiction of the GRP and state police and consequent problems in registration of cases and investigation of crime. The RPF being centrally organised does not have any problem of jurisdiction but has no authority in handling security of passengers. Thus the mechanism for handling passenger related crime in a moving train is not effective as jurisdiction of occurrence of the crime is generally not identifiable. Further, there is continued lack of coordination between the GRP and RPF on many issues especially regarding escorting of trains leading to duplicity of manpower deployed. In trains escorted only by the GRP, problem of inter-state jurisdiction arises leading to large gaps in train escort function of the GRP.

Due to overlapping functions there is considerable duplicity in manpower and deployment and infrastructure. Though, both the RPF and GRP have distinctive functions, to remove confusion and harassment of complainants, only one agency should be made responsible for registration of cases. This will also result in saving of public money to some extent which is being spent on maintenance of double establishments.

The CAG also says that in spite of the fact, that 50 per cent of the cost of GRP is reimbursed by the Railways to the concerned State Government, the Indian Railway has no control over the functioning of GRP. This indicates a distinct need to evolve a strong unified overseeing arrangement. The CAG’ss conclusion is in conflict with the constitutional position vis-a-vis policing and maintenance of law and order.

In the meanwhile, a committee of State Home Secretaries, Constituted by the Railway Board in June 2010, to improve passenger security on Railways suggested empowerment of RPF to enable them to deal with the cases of passenger offences. The committee included Ranjit Sinha the then DG RPF, T Sunil Kumar Home Secretary Karnataka, Amir Subhani, Home Secretary Bihar, S.K. Pandian, Special secretary Tamil Nadu and Vishwa Mohan Upadhyaya, Home secretary Madhya Pradesh. While the Central authorities have put just one of the suggestions by this committee relating to empowering the RPF on the fast track, most other recommendations of this committee have been put on the back burner. What is also intriguing is that none of the GRP chiefs were brought on board to deliberate or be part of this committee in their capacity as experts.

The lid is finally off on this burning issue and the bluff on the part of those trying to undermine the constitutional position and fudge the roles of two uniformed organsiations the RPF and GRP–one responsible for safety and security of railways property and passengers and the other responsible for policing and law and order was called off last month when the directors general and heads of GRP of different states signed and presented a resolution during the conference of State Directors general of Police with Railways.

Their resolution says:

  • Prevention and detection of crime and its investigation is essential part of policing which is the domain of State governments. Thus by including it as an agenda item is an attempt to usurp the powers of policing of the State governments.
  • “Policing and law and order” is item no 2 of the State List (List II) in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. Thus the whole intention of this exercise is to clandestinely take away the powers of the States, which is also against the constitutional arrangement of distribution of powers between the States and the Central Government.
  • Under Article 246 (3) of the Constitution, it is the prerogative of the state Governments and they alone can legislate on the subject and policing is their exclusive responsibility.
  • RPF is a sorce which has been created for guarding Railway property. It is beyond their legal and constitutional mandate to empower them with policing.
  • Railway offenders do not reside in Raiwlay areas. They reside in the civil domain. Therefore domain knowledge of such criminals and also the capacity to handle them is very critcal for the success of an investigating agency. Government Railway Police Force (GRP) is the only agency having necessary expertise and domain knowledge being the local police Police. GRP also has the special advantage of support from other state agencies and the police of other states, which is again very critical for the successful detection, arrest and recovery of stolen property.
  • We the DGPs and chiefs of Railway Police, who attended the Coordination Meeting on January 15 (2015) unanimously resolve that the current spehere of activities of GRP and RPF shall be continued as it is and should not be tampered with. Hence we strongly oppose any amendment in law “Empowering RPF for registration of passenger offences under IPC or any other Act.”
  • The GRP being the state police has the constitutional mandate and the advantage of better coordination with state agencies such as magistracy, prosecution and other State departments.
  • We affirm our commitment for effective coordination between RPF and GRP for passenger safety.

It is being said that the “recommendation” on the basis of which the proposal has been sent to MHA with regard to the proposed amendment to RPF Act to give the same powers to sub-inspectors and above of RPF as that of officer-in-charge of police stations under CrPC 1973 was only a suggestion by a senior officer during the DGP/IGPs Conference in New Delhi in 2010 and this should not have been added in the minutes of the meeting as a recommendation duly approved by those attending the meeting.

Further investigations on the issue of coordination between the Centre and state governments have revealed that the Railways have held back concurrence for recruitment of manpower and filling sanctioned posts to improve the working of GRP. Even the GRP demand for access link (API) to track train position and improve the efficiency of State Control Room and Response Monitoring Centre, so essential to respond to SOS calls by passengers, is not being entertained on priority by the Railway administration.

It is learnt that the Indian Railways is also refusing to share expenditure on pension of GRP personnel since 2010. The office of the Controller General of Accounts also took note of the factual position, based on the accounting rule, and conveyed the view that the provisions being cited by the Indian Railways do not have any bearing on the arrangement for sharing of the cost of pension and other charges of GRP by Railways and the State Government as these are separately governed for sharing of expenditure on GRP between the State Government and Railways on 50:50 basis. This was communicated by CGA to Comptroller and Auditor General for being conveyed to Railways in March 2014. This position was also communicated to the Chairman Railway Board in April 2014 but the matter continues to hang fire.

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