Registering protest by blocking trains may be an attention-grabbing exercise. But many protesters seem to be unaware that the Railway Act, 1989, prescribes two years imprisonment if the offence is proved in a court.
The bandh called on Tuesday by more than a dozen Tamil nationalist organisations and political parties witnessed a series of rail roko agitations across Southern Railway.
The Chennai-bound Vaigai Express was detained in Madurai, and many other long-distance trains were delayed in Chennai and Coimbatore. The slogan-shouting activists squatted on the track, and some climbed atop the locomotive.
Section 174 of the Act states that any person, including a railway servant, who attempts to obstruct or obstructs any train by squatting or picketing or during any rail-roko agitation or bandh or by keeping without authority any rolling stock on the railway…shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend up to Rs. 2,000 or with both. However, protesters resorting to rail roko agitations in the State are usually detained by the local police under the provisions of Section 151 of Cr.PC. It says that a police officer, knowing that a person is planning to commit any cognisable offence, may arrest him or her without orders from the Magistrate and without a warrant…and no person arrested under such provision shall be detained in custody for more than 24 hours. A police official said rail roko agitations were common when protesters intended to show their dissent against the Centre.
It had been the practice to take a lenient view and arrest them under of Cr.PC so that they could be released the same day.