The century-old and historic Siliguri Town Railway Station will be an all-women railway station soon. However, the feeling is mixed here, with happiness on such prospects overshadowed by sadness, as employees at the station are concerned about safety and security.
The Railways has decided to run the town station entirely with women hands. Presently, 23 employees are working under the station manager there, out of which, 16 are women in different posts.
The station, which started functioning on 23 August 1880, may have lost its importance over the years, but it still boasts of the arrival of personalities like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore and Bagha Jatin.
While the employees now seek security, demands have been raised on several occasions over giving the station a heritage status. Unlike other railway stations, this one is unique, in the sense that it is an open one, with no compound of its own and no entry or exit points. A large portion of the area has been encroached upon, with unauthorised settlements that have come up on land owned by the Railways, while there are slums. The entire area is in a deplorable condition with old buildings surrounding it.
“People can just come and go at the station from anywhere. The area has become a den for anti-socials too, while activities like drug peddling, sale of country liquor and gambling reported there during the nights. People feel unsafe while crossing the station in the evenings,” said a daily commuter and resident of Siliguri, Mrinal Kanti Kar.
According to him, the station is in dire need of a facelift and conservation. “The station has contributed immensely to the development of Siliguri, but it has lost its importance gradually. There is a need to improve the facade of the heritage building and platforms. On several occasions, demands were raised for the station to be given heritage status and for plans for heritage conservation,” he said. Employees are, however, more concerned about anti-social activities around the station.
Station manager Jalaj Kumar said around 300 passengers use the station every day. Four passenger trains-the Haldibari, Bamanhat, Alipurduar and New Bangaigaon Siliguri Junction DEMU–run from the station.
A ‘station master’, Ananya Bhattacharjee, said they welcome the decision to make the station an all-women one. “It is a welcome move that the station will be entirely run by the women staff. The situation is quite manageable in the day time, but it turns the opposite during the nights. The authorities should lay emphasis on strengthening security and give it top priority,” she said.
Another ‘station master,’ Sutanuka Banerjee, said it would be better if proper security arrangements are made before launching the all women initiative.
“It is a great move for women empowerment, but we are concerned about the security. The surrounding area almost comes under the control of anti-social elements after 7 pm, while it takes time for the RPF personnel to arrive on time if we call them for any reason,” she said.
The RPF camp in the old building has been shifted from the station and attached with the Siliguri Junction Station. “RPF personnel are now sent from the Siliguri Junction. One RPF person comes during the day time and two personnel are deployed at the station in the night. There is one GRP camp at the station, headed by a sub-inspector, with two constables. The strength is very inadequate. The authorities should address the issue at the earliest,” an official said.
Duty hours for employees there start from 6 am to 2 pm in the first half, while the second shift starts from 2 pm to 10 pm.
“Women employees usually cannot stay till 10 owing to the security reasons,” said an employee at the station. Asked about anti-social activities, the Northeast Frontier Railway general manager, Sanjive Roy, said the matter would be seriously looked into.
“We will give priority to the issue. The security system would be definitely upgraded at the station, when it would be a women-run station,” he said.