Blood on the train tracks and on successive Railway Ministers’ hands

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If I were to be responsible for the deaths of 10 people everyday and an equivalent number of injuries everyday, I would be simply incapable of looking at myself in the mirror. But not so if I was a shameless, immoral and greedy bureaucrat/politician forever absorbed in the pursuit of power and ill gotten gains as well as protecting own turf; unless of course I happened to have the moral compass and integrity of a Lal Bahadur Shastri who eventually resigned from his job as Railway Minister in the aftermath of two separate train accidents within 3 months of each other that claimed 256 lives and wounded several more.

The news about the death of two children who were hit by an express train while attempting to cross railway tracks before yesterday’s Railway budget got me thinking about Mumbai’s local train network and daily deaths and injuries on its tracks. The abovementioned figure is the daily average of 10 deaths and injuries on tracks over the last 10 years. These figures were revealed after RTI activist Chetan Kothari sought details from the Government Railway Police (GRP).

The data from the GRP has revealed that on an average more than 3,500 people die on tracks every year in various mishaps like falling in gap of train, dashing to pole, crossing lines and fell down from running train. The death toll between 2002 and 2011 (Nov) has reached 36,152.

The number of injured is also in the same range with about 4,000 commuters getting injured and the total number of injured is 36,688.

Among the various incidents, falling from train and line crossing are the top killers, followed by dashing to railway pole and falling in gap of platforms.

Back in 2003, looking at the huge number of railway deaths (5513) in a single year of 2002-03, Dr. Sarosh Mehta with support from Centre for Enquiry into Health & Allied Themes (CEHAT) had filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court. The court’s order apparently hasn’t been heeded which would explain the continued high rates of deaths and injuries on tracks.

A significant proportion of these deaths and injuries on tracks are caused by a) people trying to cross the tracks as well as b) by falling off the trains due to overcrowding. The solution to people crossing tracks would be to ensure user friendly foot over bridge as well as effective policing of these to avoid misuse. The solution to the problem of overcrowding would be to increase the passenger carrying capacity of the trains as well as optimize the train timetable using cyclic timetables. Why is it so difficult to plug these two problems when the solutions to these are quite clear?

This would require a management focus on the core operations of running an efficient, safe, cost effective railway service and that’s something that these worthies are not keen upon.  One would expect that the management time on such a poorly maintained railway service with a terrible safety record would be spent on taking care of these issues? But no, going by yesterday’s budget speech by the Railway minister, such precious management time will be instead diverted towards “enhancing passenger/rail users’ amenities” by way of setting up six more Rail Neer bottling plants!! Why would a government rail utility company be interested in setting up bottling mineral water plants in the name of passenger amenities when its passengers are dying on the train tracks in thousands yearly is beyond my comprehension. When there are already so many established mineral water bottles in the private sector, why should a government rail utility get into this business? Besides, shouldn’t the responsibility of providing safe, clean drinking water to people be the responsibility of government’s water utility company?

It is a sad state of affairs when it comes to passengers’ safety and security (see my post on this here) on Mumbai’s locals. The promising aspect is that there are people like Samir Zaveri and Dipak Gandhi supported ably by NGOs like Moneylife Foundation who are working on convincing the powers that may be to take a first step in reducing the overcrowding on Mumbai’s local trains. Please go sign the petition here. But before that go and take a good look at those who have blood on their hands by virtue of gross negligence and insensitivity on their part to solve a well defined problem with clear cut solutions.

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