People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 52

December 26, 2010




Suburban Train Commuters on Agitation Path


Shailendra Kamble


LOCAL train commuters in Mumbai's western suburbs rallied in a big protest action on December 10 against the railway authorities’ continuing negligence towards miserable travelling conditions in the local suburban trains.


The Mumbai and Thane district committees of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) jointly organised a ‘Rail Jatha’ from Dahanu Road to Churchgate. Several hundreds of protesters boarded the Dahanu Road-Virar shuttle train at 9.30 in the morning to reach Virar by 11 o'clock. At Virar, more protesters carrying DYFI flags joined and boarded a Churchgate bound suburban train. Still more volunteers boarded the same train at Nalasopara, Vasai Road, Bhayander, Mira Road, Borivali, Andheri and Dadar stations. The Rail Jatha banners were hung and DYFI flags fluttered from every window. The train was virtually 'taken over' by protestors with whole-hearted cooperation from regular commuters. This Rail Jatha had an electrifying effect all along the route, and the mainstream media could not ignore the protest action.


Once the protesters reached Churchgate, they were arrested and taken to Azad Maidan but the police officers agreed to arrange a meeting of DYFI delegation with the railway officials. DYFI state secretary Shailendra Kamble and other DYFI leaders, along with CPI(M) leaders Ashok Dhawale and Mahendra Singh, were then taken in a police van to the Western Railway general manager's office. But the Western Railway officials were not ready for a discussion. Nor was the general manager present there in spite of the fact that he was informed of the massive protest action well in advance. The leaders asked the officials present to talk over telephone to the general manager who was said to be out of station, to decide a date for discussion with the DYFI delegation on the question of suburban train travelling conditions. When the officials did not accede to this demand, the delegation including Dhawale and Mahendra Singh started a ‘sit-in’ in the corridor of the general manager's office which lasted for more than an hour. The sit-in was called off only after Mr Tripathi, head of the Western Railway's passenger services department talked to the general manager over phone and gave in writing that a meeting will be arranged on the general manager return to Mumbai to discuss the problems comprehensively.


Increase in the frequency of suburban trains, one Virar Local train every three minutes and start of suburban train services to Dahanu Road were the major demands raised by this agitation.


It is to be noted that the DYFI has led several massive protest actions of commuters in the past. Commuters have learned from their experience that railway authorities are least interested in providing decent travelling conditions in suburban trains. The promise of much publicised Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) was to increase the number of available trains, resulting in a rapid increase in the number of suburban services. For nearly a decade now, crores of rupees have been taken from Mumbai commuters in the form of surcharges in order to raise raising funds for the MUTP. Yet it is most reprehensible that the railway authorities are least concerned about the plight of suburban train commuters. The administration wakes from its deep slumber only when there is sustained protest action from the people.


From 2004 onward, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and the Pravaas Adhikar Andolan Samiti have organised the commuters in the Mira Road-Virar belt for sustained protest actions which led to completion of Borivili-Virar track quadrupling project and introduction of a significant number of new services, giving much relief to the regularly harassed commuters.


However, there has been no improvement in suburban train services in the last two years. As a result of the skewed urban development process in Mumbai, the city is increasingly getting reserved for the ultra-rich. Not only the labouring poor but the middle classes too are being pushed in huge numbers to the far-off suburbs. The railway establishment is not ready to shoulder the responsibility of providing decent travelling facilities to this pushed-out population. Obviously, the railway authorities’ lack of concern for commuters has been reinforced with the ascent of Ms Mamata Banerjee to the position of the railway minister. Just 10 peak hour trips have been added to the existing services in the last two years and the promise of extending suburban services to Dahanu Road is being postponed shamelessly.


This was why the DYFI decided that the time for another wave of protest actions had come and that the movement must spread to the whole length of Western Railway’s suburban sector from Dahanu Road to Churchgate.


The Rail Jatha has served a firm warning to the railway authorities that the Mumbai commuters are not going to silently suffer the inhuman conditions in local trains. If the Western Railway administration does not arrange a comprehensive discussion with the DYFI leadership and improve the travelling conditions, the agitation may get intensified in the near future.