It is very difficult to believe that smoking on railway territory has been prohibited for more than two decades, when looking on hundreds of passengers deliberately smoking their cigarettes on trains and railway platforms in suburban Kolkata.
While commuters accuse the railway authorities for not implementing the ban and accepting bribes to let lawbreakers remain unpunished, officials invoke helplessness and declare that all this happens due to the lack of awareness about the law among passengers.
“We often lead anti-smoking inspections and lawbreakers are punished,” declared, Purusottom Guha, divisional railway manager of Eastern Railway’s Sealdah division.
He acknowledged that it was just impossible to effectuate daily inspections on all train compartments and stations as employees of this division have also another duties to perform.
“We check approximately 832 of local trains, each having 10 carriages daily,” he said. More than 1.8 million commuters travel by local trains in Kolkata every day.
During an investigation that was held in some suburban stations as Agarpara, Bidhannagar and Barrackpore were found some hawkers selling cigarettes without any restriction.
At big terminal stations as Howrah and Sealdah, where officials are always present, there is no smoking and also there are no hawkers selling cigarettes. But once trains depart from these stations, commuters quickly light up on the train.
When Guha was asked why his department doesn’t take actions against hawkers, he stated that tobacco products are obtainable only in private stands and not in stands directed by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation.
“That is why we can’t do anything against them,” he stated. Commuters state that the situation hasn’t changed for years, in spite of the Section 167 of the Railways Act 1989 which prohibits smoking on trains and railway stations. Smoking on trains and railway stations is fined according to the Criminal Procedure Code.
A daily passenger on the Howrah station, stated: “At each station you can find hawkers selling various tobacco products. And passengers smoke even in the presence of a check –man.”
“Our primary duty is to protect railway property and assure security to passengers in trains. It is the responsibility of ticket collectors to enforce the ban. The ticket collectors fine passengers for such violations as unbooked luggage or ticketless travel, but they do not punish any passengers for smoking,” stated Railway Protection Force officer in Howrah station.
Ticket collectors on the contrary accuse RPF personnel for not punishing smokers and liberate them after accepting bribes. Eastern Railway representative Samir Goswami stated that RPF personnel and officials of the anti-fraud departments effectuate daily inspections in order to prevent smoking and selling of tobacco products on trains and stations.