September 07, 2015

India: Delhi Metro Turns Into Veg-Only Zone

The Wire - 5 September 2015

Riders Cry Fowl as Delhi Metro Turns Into Veg-Only Zone
By Shambhu Ghatak

On the eve of Independence Day, just as I reached the Civil Lines Metro Station from my office on Rajpur Road around 5.30 pm, I encountered a curious sight. The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) guards at the frisking point were refusing to let through the person standing ahead of me in the queue, because he was carrying raw eggs (in a polythene bag). When the passenger argued, he was asked to take permission from senior CISF officials who were standing near the exit gate.

After he left, I went through frisking, and then proceeded towards the underground platform for catching the next train. But I was bothered by the biased attitude of the guards, and wanted to challenge it. I realised that a document in my laptop would help me do it, and this gave me some confidence.

I went back up the stairs towards the two CISF seniors outside the exit gate, since I had observed that they had refused to allow the person carrying raw eggs to enter. I approached them and asked whether carrying eggs in the Metro was not allowed. One of them responded that if I were carrying such items, then I should come out through the exit gate. When I told him that I wasn’t but was asking about the rules, he asked me not to bother as I was quite educated and knew the rules.

I then took my laptop out and showed both of them the document I had: it was the reply (dated 31 July 2015) by Sharat Sharma, Director (Operations), DMRCL, to my query submitted under the Right to Information Act on food items that are allowed in the Metro.

I insisted on reading the contents to one of the CISF seniors, as the other refused to look at it (though he made occasional comments): “DMRC rules do not restrict carriage of non-vegetarian food items, eatables in Delhi Metro train whether raw or cooked if they are packed properly. There is no specific list of food items allowed inside Delhi metro is available with DMRC … There are no specific stations, where travelling with packed raw non-vegetarian is banned … CISF staff is authorised to comply the instruction. (sic)“

Initially, the CISF men were taken aback. When I insisted that they did not know the rules themselves, they claimed that the rules were different earlier and they did not know about the new rules. One of them even promised to try and get more information about the latest rules.

I said that as a regular officer-goer, I had never witnessed such restrictions at the Civil Lines Metro station before. However, when I said I wanted to make a complaint about them stopping the passenger for carrying eggs, and wanted to know whom to approach, they refused to answer.

I told them that I will be writing about the incident in the papers, and emphasised that they should not harass people because of their own food preferences. In response, they said I was free to to eat whatever I feel like at home. As I left, I found the CISF jawans laughing at my silly intervention.

My first tryst with DMRC

I myself had faced a similar situation earlier, when I was stopped at the gates of the INA Market metro station for carrying packed raw meat. When seen against the backdrop of recent events like the beef ban in Maharashtra and the Madhya Pradesh government refusing to allow eggs in the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme, it prompted me to file an RTI application.

In my application, dated June 9, 2015, I had asked the public information officer (PIO) of DMRC to clarify four issues: 1) A list of all the food items (cooked and uncooked) that are allowed in the Delhi Metro; 2) whether it was illegal for passengers to carry packed raw mutton, chicken or fish (in small quantity for household consumption; 3) Whether there are specific Metro stations where such items are banned; and 4) Whether the CISF personnel posted at Delhi Metro stations stop passenger for carrying these items.

I received a bland reply (dated June 29, 2015) from one PIO named Vikas Kumar, which simply stated: “Details of information sought is not available in any material form”. I filed an appeal with help from Swapna Jha of Common Cause, an organisation working on civic rights, and this time I got a detailed reply from the First Appellate Authority of DMRC, which became a handy document in my encounter with the CISF personnel.

What can DMRC do?

According to the DMRC’s website, both the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Government of India have equal stake in the company. However, the CISF comes under the ambit of the Ministry of Home Affairs. It may be possible that there is lack of coordination between the DMRC and the CISF regarding items that can be allowed inside the Metro, including eatables. However, it cannot be ruled out that the CISF guards on their own are preventing passengers from carrying non-veg food items.

Since DMRC recently conducted a customer satisfaction survey, I hope they take note of this issue and take necessary steps to ensure passengers are not harassed unnecessarily. After all, the Delhi Metro is the lifeline of the NCR. The last thing it should have is a red line for passengers.

Shambhu Ghatak, a researcher on development issues, works with the Inclusive Media for Change project based at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.