Railways facing terror threat in State

GUWAHATI, Aug 3 – Railways, the economic lifeline of North-east India, is once again under threat from extremist groups in Assam, following which some trains have been cancelled or short terminated in the last few days. Smooth running of trains will be affected in the State till Independence Day, a period during which extremists have targeted railway assets in the recent past.

Well-placed sources in NFR, who would prefer anonymity, revealed that apart from improving security standards of NFR, the State Government has been informed about the need for better protection of railway assets from time to time. However, no fool proof system has been developed to thwart the designs of subversive elements.

What surprises many is, even though the State Government keeps reiterating about an improvement in the law and order situation of the State, lives of passengers in trains and railway employees are still at risk from armed extremists in a number of stretches. It is such fears that prompted the NFR to cancel trains running in the Metre Gauge section under Rangiya Division.

Stretches in the Rangiya Division have been considered vulnerable by the NFR because of threats which can emanate from a number of extremist groups. The threat perception is such that the NFR is not willing to take any risks even though it is aware that stoppage of train movement in the MG section will impact on goods and passenger transport in Assam and in parts of Arunachal Pradesh, which may also increase the cost of commodities carried by trains.

This year, the threats from extremist groups, appear to have increased with some attempting to put pressure on the State and Union Government to meet their demands, or to assert their presence in a somewhat desperate way.

As the NFR continues to receive complaints from aggrieved passengers each time it cancels or short terminates trains, its officials point to the high degree of threats, some of which are new. “The Ghograpar blast was first attributed to the NDFB anti-talk group. But it was later found to be the handiwork of a hardly known group…the problem is most extremists treat the railways as a soft target,” said a senior NFR official based in its Maligaon headquarters.

Another, emerging challenge for security personnel is availability of better technology and knowledge and their use among some extremist groups. It is believed that mobile phone connectivity is one of the means which extremists have relied on to plan and target train assets. In the recent derailment of a train in Kokrajhar district, it is established that a gas cutter was used to remove rail track, a dangerous precedent, NFR sources admit.