Trains chugging through Uttar Pradesh have become susceptible to robberies ever since the poll season began as police escorts have been deployed on election duty and an official admitted "safety of trains in UP will be at some risk till the polls are over".
A train trip to any part of Uttar Pradesh might not be a good idea for another month. With most police escorts posted on trains crisscrossing the state pulled out of their duty-on-wheels and deployed in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, train travel has become increasingly risky in the state.
As many as 19 on-board robberies on trains, including VIP trains like the Lucknow Mail, have taken place in April alone.
Other than the Lucknow Mail in which armed and masked dacoits robbed at will earlier this week, other important trains like the Purushottam Express, Sangam Express, Muri Express and Padmavat Express have also been robbed by gangs.
The Government Railway Police (GRP) and the Railway protection Force (RPF) personnel have been deployed in election duties in the six-phase staggered polls in Uttar Pradesh that has 80 parliamentary constituencies.
Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Public Grievances Satish Ganesh told IANS that the "safety and security of trains in UP will be at some risk till the LS polls are over".
While claiming that police at important routes had been sensitized, the senior police officer rued the paucity of staff, specially in poll season.
A senior GRP officer told IANS that over 1,500 personnel have been pulled out of their train duties in UP and are now shuttling from one constituency to another.
Balloting in 35 seats has taken place and the remaining 45 will go to polls in the next three phases.
Hundreds of RPF personnel have also been put on poll duty and so have been 81 police sub-inspectors manning the trains.
More than 1,500 trains chug through the state every day and are protected by 750 GRP and 350 RPF personnel.
With elections under way, only 300 trains in UP are currently having police escorts, leaving about 1,200 trains that face risk of robberies.
In the Lucknow rail division, only 30 of the daily 150 trains have escorts these days.
As many as 11 incidents took place in western Uttar Pradesh alone and the robbers have also struck at Etawah, Ekdil, Phaphoond and Bharthana areas where polls were held in the state's third phase Thursday.
Acclaimed Urdu poet and chairman of the UP Urdu Academy Munnavar Rana, travelling in the AC two tier coach of a train, was injured in a robbery recently.
Recounting the "khauf ka manzar", Rana told IANS that he was aghast at the brazenness with which the dacoits looted the passengers.
They first pelted stones at Moradabad outer and then suddenly barged into the bogey, catching us all by utter surprise, he recalled.
"At least in AC coaches and on trains like Lucknow Mail one feels a sense of security but here it lay in tatters as the gang robbed women on gun point and bashed up men," he said.
Similarly women passengers were robbed at gun point between Mankapur-Gonda railway station on Dehradun Express.
Rahul Malhotra, a resident of Lucknow who was robbed of Rs.50,000 on Lucknow Mail and hit by an iron rod, swears not to travel on train again in the near future.
A chartered accountant, the 28-year-old is dismayed over losing money, his watch and gold chain to the robbers.
Ravindra Ghoshal, a resident of Asansol, was robbed on board the Haridwar-Howrah Upasna Express and rues coming to Uttar Pradesh.
S.S. Gabrayal, inspector (RPF) in Bareilly, from where major trains between New Delhi and Lucknow pass, says that the force was trying to "manage escorts in at least VIP trains".
Additional Director General of Police GRP Virendra Singh admitted shortage of staff, but told IANS that a meeting had been held with RPF counterparts in New Delhi and that "things will be sorted out at the earliest".