BMRCL has always been notorious for its lack of transparency. Even being a government entity, the company is reluctant to share information to the media, citizens or activists. The entry into BMRCL head office is restricted compared to other government offices.
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When I had asked the BMRCL PRO for a sketch of the stations last year, it was denied citing security reasons. I was also stopped from taking pictures, even from outside, of Metro stations under construction, about six months back.
Now the strictures have extended to public spaces too – Metro employees in stations stop media persons from taking pictures or even talking to the public, saying prior permission is required. But apparently those from non-media organisations can talk to public provided they do not ‘disturb’ commuters.
Last week I visited the stations to talk to some commuters about their Metro experience. The security guards initially stopped me from taking commuters’ pictures even though we were at quite a safe distance from the rail lines and the commuters were willing to have their pictures taken. However, I put my camera aside and went on to talk to commuters.
I was talking to a woman at the MG Road station, when a security guard asked me to stop and gestured me to enter the train which had arrived just then. The woman I was talking to was in no hurry and was waiting for the next train, and I continued to speak to her.
When the guard asked me to get into the train again, I informed him that I was a media person. At this, another security guard appeared and demanded my identification. On seeing my identification he asked me to stop talking and go with him to the office of one of the Station Controllers.
The guard was carrying a baton which he placed across my book to stop me from writing. As I asked the woman who I was talking to for her contact number, she was asked not to speak as well, even as she protested.
I was taken to the office of one of the Station Controller, to whom I explained that I was not causing any hassle, was alone and was talking only to willing commuters. The station controller called two of his superiors to check if I can be allowed to talk to commuters.
He was under the impresion that I was from an NGO or some such organisation and not from the media. When I corrected him saying that I was from press, he promptly disconnected his calls saying that media was not allowed anyway.
He explained that those from non-media organisations ‘may’ be allowed, but that media had to get permissions from the BMRCL Head Office. He said that every press person had to get letters from BMRCL to speak to anyone or take pictures in the Metro stations or trains.
So even for conversations within a public space that is maintained by a public organisation, explicit permission should be obtained. One might wonder when BMRCL may actually start telling us what exactly we should be talking about.⊕