Kolkata: The railways have borne the brunt of the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests in West Bengal. Since 13 December, protesters have vandalised or set fire to 19 stations and 20 trains, pelted stones at passing trains, ransacked ticket booking counters and laid siege to tracks. Some 655 trains have been cancelled in the state.
However, only 17 FIRs have been lodged in connection with the incidents of arson and rioting at railway premises.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who held a protest rally against the new citizenship law for the second successive day in Kolkata Tuesday, alleged that the Narendra Modi government deliberately cancelled the trains to defame the state government.
She dismissed such violence involving government property as “small incidents”, and shrugged off any responsibility to protect railway property.
Three divisions of the Eastern Railways (ER) — Howrah, Sealdah and Malda — have been impacted badly over the last four days. ER has cancelled 127 mail/express trains, 190 passenger trains and 290 suburban trains.
“We are still assessing the damage. Our teams could not enter affected areas in the last few days, we have started assessment work from today,” said Nikhil Chakraborty, ER’s chief public relations officer.
South-Eastern Railways’ Kharagpur division has also suffered a lot of damage — worth at least Rs 16 crore — according to a senior railway official. Over these four days, 48 trains were cancelled, six stations were ransacked and five trains were torched.
“The Railway Protection Force is prepared for further actions in this regard… we are still working on the train services,” said the official.
‘Not the state’s duty to protect railways’
At Tuesday’s rally in Jadavpur, south Kolkata, Banerjee downplayed the violence at railway premises, adding that it was not the state government’s job to protect them.
“There were some small incidents at some places. But they (central government) almost shut down railway services. People are facing serious problems due to the random cancellation of trains,” she said.
“It is not our responsibility to protect the railways, but we tried to help them as much as possible. They have their force, RPF, to protect trains and stations.”
Banerjee had said at her first anti-citizenship law protest in central Kolkata Monday that the central government had offered her central paramilitary forces for assistance, but she refused to accept.
Protests entered their fifth day Tuesday, with the West Bengal Police tweeting that there had been over 356 arrests related to law and order issues.
Apart from the railways, protesters have also set fire to buses and ransacked toll plazas, causing losses worth a few crore rupees to public property.
The state government issued a media advisory late Monday, asking electronic media houses not to show old footage of violence and confuse people.
BJP exploring legal action
Dilip Ghosh, president of the West Bengal BJP, said around 70 buses and over two dozen trains were burnt down by the protestors, and attacked Banerjee for her “small incidents” comment.
“Did she want more damage to public property? What number will make her happy, and when she would call it big? Her government brought in a legislation against causing damage to public property, but she was the one who, as an opposition leader, vandalised the state legislative assembly and other public property. She taught her party workers to do such things,” Ghosh alleged.
Another senior BJP leader said a petition has already been filed in the Calcutta High Court, and the party is exploring further legal action against such violence.