Kolkata: Far from evoking feelings of romance or nostalgia, train journeys in West Bengal now are replete with morbid tales of blood, gore and wails of the innocent, with the state topping the country in terms of murders, rapes and kidnappings on the railway tracks.
As per recently released National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, West Bengal aced the dubious list of crime in railways, recording 6,347 cases, including murder and rape, to account for a whopping 17.40 percent of the 36,466 incidents that occurred across the country in 2014.
Besides registering a jump of around 325 percent from last year's figure of 1,494 for total number of crimes, Bengal accounted for 120 murders in the railway premises, with Bihar coming a distant second with 60 such deaths.
The Government Railway Police (GRP) recorded 396 murders across the country.
In terms of women's security, the scenario is rather worrisome. Of the 123 rapes on railway premises recorded across the country, a staggering 85 occurred in the eastern state, with Madhya Pradesh (11) the only other state to reach a double figure mark.
In 2013, Bengal accounted for 34 of the 288 murders and only five cases of rape of the 53 recorded by the GRP in the entire country.
The railways in the state also witnessed 241 cases of causing death by negligence while the figure for the entire country stood at 318.
Is the scenario really as grim as the NCRB data shows? The custodians of passengers' security beg to differ.
Attributing the GRP's efficiency in recording even the pettiest of crimes for the high crime chart, Additional Director General of Police (Railways) Mrityunjay Kumar Singh claimed only a minuscule percentage of the 120 murders actually took place within the railways premises.
"Of the 120 murders that have been recorded, only about one to two percent actually occurred within the railway premises. In most of the cases, the bodies were recovered by the GRP and the murders actually took place beyond our premises," Singh told IANS.
"It would be unfair to question the security standards just on the fact that criminals find it convenient to dump bodies on tracks passing through secluded areas," Singh reasoned .
Besides topping in murder and rape, the state also accounted for the highest number of cases of attempt to murder - 259 out of 347 across the country - and kidnapping and abduction - 208 out of the country's total of 447.
In addition to the murders and rapes, 131 accidents occurred at railway crossings across the state, resulting in 112 deaths, including of 23 females.
Singh admitted the staff crunch of the GRP did take a toll on passenger security.
"GRP has been perennially short-staffed. When it comes to allotting more personnel, we unfortunately always feature at the lowest rung of the government's preference list," rued Singh, also a lyricist of the national award winning film 'Chokher Bali'.
Even Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, during his recent visit to the city, conceded that the desired police-passenger ratio was not feasible owing to the huge number of passengers serviced by the national carrier.
Former minister of state for railways and Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, though, pinned the blame on the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government in the state.
"When the law and order situation is down in the dumps in the entire state, how can the railways be expected to remain untouched," Chowdhury told IANS.
"When the ruling party has been taken over by criminals and the police rendered mere puppets in the hands of the Trinamool, such a thing is bound to happen. The railways should not and cannot be blamed alone," added the Lok Sabha member from Baharampur.
Incidentally, while the GRP recorded nearly 200 cases of trespass (22) arson (134), and riots (26), only a solitary arrest was made in the entire year under the Railways Act and the Railway Property (Unlawful Possession) Act that contain penal provisions for destruction of railway property.
Even in the current year, the railways in Bengal continue to be in the news for the wrong reason.
While a battle of sexes panned out on the tracks earlier in the month when male and female commuters clashed and fought pitched battles for claiming rights to ladies special suburban trains, an explosion on a local train in North 24 Parganas district prompted the union home ministry to call upon the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe the matter.
The May 12 explosion in Sealdah-Krishnanagar at the Titagarh railway station killed one and left at least 15 others injured.
Former IPS officer Nazrul Islam, who served as the Executive Director (Security), Railways, attributed police's inability to create deterrence behind the high crime chart.
"Crime can be prevented mostly through deterrence which requires effective policing. So long as there is lack of specialised training, adequate strength and dearth of technological assistance, a change in the grim crime scenario is not possible," Islam told IANS.