Kochi's dark underbelly is below its railway overbridges too

The dark underbelly of Kochi's railway overbridges
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Kochi: The city is notorious for increasing incidents of crime and a few films have captured its seamy side well. Four railway overbridges in the city are bases of antisocial elements as the city police and the Railways turn a blind eye to them. Meanwhile, drug peddling, pickpocketing and assaults in the vicinity of these overbridges are rising.

The bridges are near the Ernakulam Town (North) railway Station, Ernakulam Junction (South) station, at Pullepady and on the M L Jacob Road.

Fear around North

Commuters to the North railway station refuse to use the foot overbridge and instead cross the railway track, be it any time of the day.

Walking underneath the bridges after dusk is a risky affair as lack of proper illumination makes the environment favourable for the antisocial elements. Passengers who get down at Town Hall bus stop, Lissie Metro station or North station mostly take the dangerous path to reach the other side the bridge. Police are at a loss to guarantee the security of people who walk down the bridge which is like a shelter for beggars and gypsies in the evenings. The annoyed residents have been constantly demanding to convert the entire space into a parking lot or develop a garden there.

Mobile-phone thieves

Of late, new-age miscreants with a penchant for mobile phones have surfaced in the Pullepady area where trains from Kottayam deviate towards the North railway station. The gang armed with rods targets passengers who sit on the footsteps of the coaches with their phones. When the trains slow down at this point, the hooligans strike the unsuspecting travellers and flee the scene with the gadget. Apparently, the culprits are aping similar lines of crimes portrayed in the films.

These spots have turned out to be a haven for anti-socials for more reasons than one. Firstly, the robbers can escape easily by easily crossing the railway track. Erecting a wall or fence beside railway tracks to protect the commuters from anti-social elements may act as a hurdle. Though the Railway Protection Force has come up with a similar proposal, no action has been taken so far.

The easy access to platforms has put the North railway station on high security risk. Constructing a foot overbridge from Lissie Metro Station to the North station can be a solution to some extent. It will benefit the commuters and also drastically bring down the number of persons crossing the tracks.

The footbridge was constructed alongside North railway bridge, but very few pedestrians make use of the facility. There can be a change in the situation unless restrictions are imposed on railway track crossings.

Pullepady is close to the North station as it is popularly called.

High-handedness of transgenders

The ceremonious extortion of money by transgenders, though not common in Kerala, is now rampant at South railway station. On Tuesdays they make routine visits on the Ernakulam-Howrah Antyodaya Express that leaves the station at 12.20 am with mostly migrant workers. By 9 pm the platform would be crowded with these labourers who come to board the train. It is alleged the Railway Protection Force (RPF) is not discharging its duties well as the train is patronised by migrant workers.

The transgenders, who prefer to target migrant workers to Malayali passengers, demand money anywhere from Rs 30 to Rs 100 from a single passenger, and abuse and assault those who refuse to give in. They also annoy the passengers on board Alappuzha-Dhanbad Express that leaves the station in the morning.

Teen gangsters

Passengers from Ernakulam South railway station who have to reach KSRTC terminal or otherwise, are targeted by a set of teen gangsters when they pass by the M L Jacob bridge near the bus terminal. The miscreants mainly attack travellers who proceed to the bus station through Vivekananda Road or walk beside the rail track. Even goons from outside the locality are part of the gang that station next to the culverts beside the bridge.

They hit people using stones and rods and loot their valuables and mobile phones. Strangely these routine attacks occur in close proximity to Central Police station. However, inadequate police raids have made the stretch dangerous for commute. If at all police reach the crime spot, the miscreants will vanish into the darkness close to the bus terminal.

Immoral activities of transgenders

Transgenders from outside the state who gather underneath the North, South railway overbridges and at Kalathiparambu Road are giving headache for the police. Their accomplices mainly attack and loot young men who approach the transgenders. Such assaults by the community are very common in the area as they are pretty much sure that the victims will not lodge a police complaint against them, say Railway police.

The community also indulges in immoral activities at two unoccupied buildings near South railway bridge. Intense patrolling could bring down the menace of transgenders in the Valanjamblam area, but it is now back to square one.

Risky crossings

Apart from crime, accidents are likely as passengers, who would be in a haste to reach the South railway station, choose to avoid the main roads and cross railway tracks.

Shunting is mostly on at the South station and the tracks are never found without trains or engines here. As dusk sets in shunting will get noticed only when rail workers blow the whistle from the last coach. The risk of trains running over public crossing tracks is high as a fast-approaching locomotive won't be audible from a distance.

Unlike the North station, the South railway station does not have a separate overbridge for pedestrians. This has to be addressed by the Corporation or the Public Works Department. Moreover, the open area connecting the end of the platforms to railway tracks has to be permanently shut down.

A hapless RPF

The Railway Protection Force is unable to set in a place a constant monitoring mechanism as most of the bridges are situated outside the station compound. It had put forward a proposal to erect fences extending from North to South stations to enhance the security system.

Though there were plans to introduce security system on the lines of airport, it had to be abandoned after noting that the stations had multiple points of accessibility. Scanning machines worth lakhs of rupees were purchased 5 years ago but not a single baggage has been scanned at South station until now. The lone security gadget installed at the station was CCTV camera.

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