New Delhi, Sept 21 (UNI) Observing that the turnaround of Railways would critically hinge on its ability to provide security to its freight operations, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad today said he had sent a proposal to the Finance Ministry, seeking its approval to augmnent the 66,000-strong Railway Protection Force (RPF) by additional 24,000 recruitments.
''In fact, there is an imperative need to recruit around 40,000 personnel in the RPF to provide security to the railway network, which has become an easy target for strikes from terrorists, naxalites and other extremist elements,'' Mr Prasad said.
Addressing a function after laying the foundation stone of a residential block for RPF officers in their mess complex at Brar Square in west Delhi, he said the construction of a third line for freight transportation would entail strengthening of the Railway security network.
''Naxalite attacks have affected the transportation of coal from Jharkhand. The incidents of pilferage of coal and petrol from railway wagons have become commonplace,'' he said.
In addition, there is the issue of security of passengers.
''Every other day, there are reports of miscreants robbing passengers by lacing their food with intoxicants or poison,'' the minister said.
''All this makes a strong case for beefing up the RPF and modernising the force which has been playing a valiant role in providing security to passengers and railway properties.'' In this connection, he also stressed the need for forging an effective coordination between the Railway and Home ministries and different intelligence agencies.
Mr Prasad assured the RPF top brass that he would make all possible efforts to modernise the force and that fun ds would not be a constraint in this endeavour.
He said the recent terror attacks on the Pakistan-bound Samjhauta Express and the suburban train system in Mumbai had raised a question mark on the security on railways. ''But the RPF personnel have played a major role in preventing the recurrence of such attacks since then, and I salute them for their heroic deeds,'' he said.
RPF Director General M K Sinha said the Force personnel were escorting 1450 passenger trains as of now and were committed to providing top rate security to the travelling passengers.
Mr Sinha said the RPF had selected 96 railway stations and a like number of trains as model trains and stations for strengthening their security system.
''We have constituted flying squads under the direct supervision of four DIG-level officers, who send their reports directly to the RPF DG on thge security aspects of these model stations.'' In this connection, the RPF DG pointed out that people from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, returning from Delhi, Mumbai and Punjab, were becoming victims of robbers, who spiked their food with intoxicants and poison and then robing them of their belongings.
''Videography is being done in unreserved compartments of the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh-bound trains originating from these places in order to identify the criminal elemnets,'' he said.
Mr Sinha also made a strong case for reinforcing the RPF by recruiting more personnel and improving the career prospects of the officers and jawans of the Force.