Though the number of Covid-19 cases has ebbed, the virus has not gone away and the state is urging people to not let their guard down. To control the spread, only fully vaccinated people are allowed on trains. However, the number of fines collected from maskless passengers highlights the need for greater control.
The Central and Western Railway authorities had issued a circular in April 2021 regarding the compulsion of masks while travelling in trains as well as railway premises for six months. On Thursday, a letter issued by Neeraj Sharma, executive director (passengers’ marketing), Railway Board, said, “The issue of masks has been reviewed and it has been decided to extend the rule for another six months i.e up to April 16, 2022.”
The mandatory use of masks and the fine was already listed under the Indian Railways (penalties for activities affecting cleanliness at railway premises) Rules, which also has the provision of fines for those found spitting on rail premises, said an official.
“In view of the Covid-19 situation, it’s important to control spitting and acts of similar nature, and entering the railway premises (including trains) without mask. It can cause danger to life and public health,” the official added.
Meanwhile, despite the best efforts of officials, the number of Mumbaikars travelling in local trains without masks has not reduced. As per the figures obtained from the rail authorities, Western Railway (WR) has taken action against 11,629 passengers travelling without face masks since April this year. The monthly average comes to 1,938 cases. But in October, 424 cases have already been registered.
The WR officials claim the number of cases are coming down over the months; however, the fact also remains that checks too have been reduced. In April, they caught 2,646 people without masks, which dropped to 1,326 in June. It then surged to 2,013 cases in July and in September the total cases stood at 1,606.
In these six months, the WR collected total fines of Rs 16.93 lakh and in the first seven days of October, they collected Rs 50,300 as fines. "We will be again intensifying the checks to catch people without masks," said a WR official.
On the Central Railway (CR) too, the number of cases has remained consistent, but way lesser compared to WR. The CR authorities fined 2,385 people and recovered Rs 4.64 lakh from April till September this year.
The monthly average number of cases comes to 398, which is close to one-fifth less than that on WR. As per figures, CR caught 446 people in April, 780 in May, which came down to 213 cases in July and there were 296 cases in September. Between October 1-4, there were 340 cases and Rs 54,700 was recovered as fines.
The Government Railway Police fined 31,713 passengers in the suburban section of both zonal railways in the last 11 months. “Between November 3, 2020, to October 7, 2021, we fined 31,713 passengers and collected fines worth Rs 67.18 lakh from the offenders," said a senior officer of GRP.
With more restrictions being eased, people seem to have become complacent. This is what government authorities and experts feel as not everyone are wearing face masks while travelling in local trains, metro rail, BEST, aggregator cabs, taxis and auto-rickshaws.
On the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar corridor, the Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd the staff is stationed at the entrance of stations, monitoring the passengers. However, many people were seen not wearing their masks properly before entering the premises. Yet in the last many weeks of metro rail starting, MMOPL has fined five people for being without masks and collected fines of Rs 1,000.
Meanwhile, the BEST isn't doing much to catch those without masks and levy fines. The officials, however, claim that the conductors have been told to disallow passengers from entering if they don't wear masks.