They are everywhere -- on the platforms, next to the tracks, under the foot over-bridges. You encounter them every time you step into the station to catch a train to work.
For long, they have fallen in the blind spot of railway authorities -- but after the shocking gang rape on Thursday close to the Mahalaxmi train tracks, the authorities have sprung into action to free the railway premises of drug addicts, beggars and other miscreants who squat along the tracks and even live there. This hectic eviction drive, however, has ended in failure.
On Thursday, the victim and her colleague had used a lane leading from the railway tracks to enter the Shakti Mill compound in Mahalaxmi. There have been reports that the five accused barged into the mill, accusing the two of trespassing into ‘railway property’.
Reeling with shock over the way in which their institution was used to intimidate the victim and her colleague, the railway authorities flew into action the next day. In three days, they have driven out 1,500 drug addicts and other encroachers from the railway premises.
Of the miscreants, the authorities are most concerned about the drug addicts -- popularly called gardulas -- who loiter along the tracks. They have also trained their guns on vagabonds, beggars, and rag pickers. In spite of their vigilance, however, they claim that the gardulas somehow manage to find their way back to the same spot from where they were evicted.
On Friday, a 16-year-old youth was handed over to police, after he tried taking his pants off in front of a female commuter. He too turned out to be an addict and the police has decided to send him to a rehabilitation centre.
Alok Bohra, senior divisional security commissioner, Central Railways (CR) said, “Our aim is to make the railways free of such people, who use the premises illegally. Soon after the gang rape in Mahalaxmi, we have intensified the eviction drive against the encroachers, drug addicts and the beggars on our premises.”
The miscreants are ubiquitous in the stations, tracks and under the foot over-bridges. Since Thursday, gardulas have been shunted from Mumbai Central, Masjid, Mahalaxmi, Mahim, Bandra, Mankhurd, Kurla.
R Rupanwar, senior divisional security commissioner of the Western Railways (WR) has also intensified operations against encroachers: “We are sending our men to specific locations to search for such nuisance- makers and drag them out of the station and railway premises. We want to make the railways free of such people and make it safer for our travellers.”
Other senior officials however have admitted that evicting these miscreants is a job easier spoken of than executed. “Their return journey is far smoother than their exit. We drive them out from one point, but then there are so many entry-exit points on every station that they have no difficulty returning. Not every point can be guarded,” acceded a senior railway officer.
The number of druggies evicted from railway premises yesterday
According to experts dealing in the rehabilitation of drug addicts, only eviction is not a solution. The efforts of the railway authorities are proving futile because they are only driving the drug addicts from their premises, instead of sending them to de-addiction centres.
Eldred Tellis, founder director, and consultant on drug abuse and HIV/AIDS programmes at Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust, said, “Most of these addicts are migrants, with no home of their own. Many have run away from their homes. For such people, the railway premises are easy shelter points. Just driving away them from a place which is a safe haven for them stay wont solve the problem. Whenever we find anyone on the streets, we take them to our centres. But when we try entering the railway premises, the railway authorities themselves come in the way and question us, and even book us for trespassing.”
According to Tellis, fear is another factor preventing the cops to crack down on the encroachers. His figures show that 80 per cent of the drug addicts suffer from Hepatitis C, while 17 per cent are HIV positive. Both are transferable diseases. The police fear that the addicts might attack them with syringes that they use, if they try to nab them or put them behind bars.