It was not the first time, nor the last, but at 5.30 am on July 16th, around an hour after Metro services resumed, Vadapalani Station had no security officials to guard the baggage scanners or frisk commuters. Commuters who patiently followed rules by waiting at the baggage scanner were met with yells of the staff belonging to the Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL). “Just collect your baggage and move,” shouted two staff members, pointing at the unmanned scanners and standing on the other side of the automated gates.
On July 18th, around 7 am, St Thomas Mount station saw a similar scenario, where only one security officer was seen at the main entrance. The usual pat checks on the commuters had to be done away with, and they were just asked to go through the metal detector. But such incidents are not one-off instances, they are all too common in most metro stations in Chennai, especially during the early and late hours, say regular commuters.
The 32 stations of CMRL serve 95,000 to 1 lakh commuters every day and it is strange that commuter safety should be taken so much for granted in this public transport system. Chennai Metro Rail officials boast of providing impeccable training to the personnel, but on the ground, reality seems to be different.
“A specialised programme is organised by the Security Wing of CMRL before deploying the security personnel at stations. The programme includes know-how related to security check by Hand Held Metal Detector (HHMD), Door Frame Metal Detector (DFMD) and Baggage scanner. They are also trained to respond appropriately to any untoward incidents that may happen at stations and to escalate issues to higher officials as needed,” said Shanmuga Pandian, the spokesperson of CMRL.
Regular commuters however have a different version to share. “The checking area looked deserted. The scanning machine was switched on, but they were none to man the machine. And there weren’t people even at the customer facilitation centre. As we were perplexed, the staff asked us to place the baggage inside the scanner and enter the gates,” said Sivapriyan E T B, a media professional and a regular commuter.
The response from the staff was also hardly adequate, when commuters pointed out the lapse in the security apparatus. Rajkumar K (name changed) said he has had a bad experience in general with security personnel at Metro stations. “Many a time, they just allow people to enter the gates without even checking them using the metal detectors. They act as if they are doing a favour to the passenger by skipping the check-in protocol. They don’t realise they are actually doing a disservice to commuters by not following the rules,” he said.
V Ramarao of Traffic and Transportation Forum, an organisation that works towards public transportation in Chennai, also admitted that the security apparatus at metro stations are quite weak. “It is not the security personnel but the Metro staff that go on rounds. Security personnel can be seen only at the concourse (ticketing) area. Metro systems, especially underground corridors, are very vulnerable and several such installations have come under attack from terrorists in the Western world,” he said.
Lessons from Delhi Metro
Metro stations that see fewer footfalls have even fewer or no security personnel. Stating that each metro station is guarded by a minimum of two security personnel up to a maximum of four, a CMRL spokesperson admitted that the number is decided based on the number of commuters.
When we visited the LIC and St Thomas metro stations on the night of July 15th, there was no presence of any security personnel in the concourse area. Commuters, especially women, admitted that they feel insecure in such situations.
“Security Officers can be seen near the customer care and the main area. But during evenings, when the station and platforms are empty, I don’t feel safe,” a female metro user said, seeking anonymity, at the LIC Metro station.
A security officer on duty said that such vulnerable situations arise mostly during mornings and evenings, when there is a change in shifts. He was not willing to comment further.
Though the Chennai Metro is world-class when it comes to infrastructure and rolling stock, it clearly has a lot to address on the security front. Useful lessons may not be too far away, though. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), operating one of the most successful metro systems in the country, has a robust security system that we could take tips from.
DMRC is guarded by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and the force has made a name for itself for itself in protecting vital installations. Commuters undergo rigorous checks including physical pat check and complete baggage scanning. “The CISF cover comes at a price, but considering passenger safety, no amount is big. DMRC has never compromised on the security of commuters. At any time of the day, you will spot at least two security officers at any part of the Delhi metro stations,” said Sivapriyan E T B, who worked in New Delhi for nearly a decade.
Several parliamentary panels have warned that the Delhi Metro, despite being guarded by ace forces like the CISF, was still vulnerable. This only raises more concern about safety issues in Namma Chennai Metro. However, CMRL spokesperson Pandian Shanmugam does not share the concern. He denied any kind of gaps in the system and said that there is sufficiently tight scrutiny in Chennai metro stations. In his defence, he pointed out that there are approximately 2240 CCTV cameras in the 32 metro stations, varying from 60 to 80 in each station.
**Errata: The headline of the story initially referred to ‘namma Metro’ which is usually associated with the Bangalore Metro. The confusion is regretted.