Mumbai: Bodies being wheeled out from railway platforms has become a common feature on Mumbai's suburban railway station.
A Right To Information (RTI) query has recently revealed that 20,000 people died on Mumbai railway tracks in the past five years.
That means over 4000 people per year and, on an average, 10 people per day.
It has been found that the main causes of the deaths are:
Falling off train
Hitting railway poles
Falling through gap between platform and train
The Railway blames careless travellers for the accidents, but many say its sluggishness in implementing remedial measures that’s behind these grim statistics.
“Railway has not built enough FOBs at stations and there is a lack of manned railway crossings, which together lead to unmanageable commuter flow within the stations,” RTI activist Chetan Kothari said.
The information also reveals that Kurla and Kalyan on the central route and the stretch between Jogeshwari and Borivali on the Western route are the deadliest zones.
Railway officials, however, refused to comment.
Popularly known as Mumbai's lifeline, the suburban trains ferry more than six million commuters daily. But with an alarming rise in the number of deaths on railway tracks, this very lifeline is proving to be a virtual death trap.
Nearly 1,800 people have lost their lives while travelling by local trains in the city in the first six months of 2008. Despite this, little is being done to make the commute safer for lakhs of passengers, report Sandeep Ashar and Dayanand Kamath
Mumbai’s suburban trains ferry more than 64 lakh commuters daily. But the alarming rise in the number of deaths on railway tracks have earned this lifeline the dubious distinction of a virtual death trap. According to the data revealed by the GRP, the first six months of the year have seen the railway tracks claim close to 1,800 lives. Of this, more than 60 per cent lost their lives while trying to cross the tracks.
The railway tracks at Sandhurst Road seem to be the worst of the lot. According to the data released by the Railways in response to a query filed under the Right to Information Act by social activist and local resident Dinesh Rathod, 555 people had died on the tracks at Sandhurst Road in the last 18 years.
“This is due to the unavailability of a foot over bridge towards the Byculla end of the station,” said Rathod. “Scores of commuters are forced to risk their lives daily and cross the tracks.”
Sandhurst Road station, which is a stoppage for both central and harbour line trains, has only one bridge towards the south end of the station. “There are many government and private offices in and around Sandhurst Road. Residents and office goers of Mazgaon, Dockyard Road, Walpakhadi, among other areas, get down here. It takes them more than 30 minutes to reach their destination using the bridge,” said Rathod. “To avoid delays, many use the railway tracks to cover the same distance in lesser time.”
Among those who use cross the tracks are employees of the government sales tax office, the Mazgaon court as well as railway officials. “Even teachers and students of schools located in the vicinity cross the tracks,” said Rathod. “Every third day, a death is reported on the tracks,” said Rathod’s wife Jyoti. The couple has been urging the railway authorities to construct a bridge on the southern exit of the station for 12 years now. Though their campaign has drawn support from the sales tax employees union, the bridge is nowhere to be seen.
In fact, a proposal for construction of a skywalk from the railway station to the pedestrain Hancock bridge was approved by the railway authorities in 2001. The project was estimated to cost Rs 31.68 lakh. Since the project area fell outside the railway premises, the bridge was to be constructed using funds from Members of Parliament Local Area Development (MPLAD) scheme. The City Collector’s office had released a sum of Rs 62,000 from the MPLAD fund of South Central Mumbai MP Mohan Rawale in 2003. But nothing has happened so far.
A senior engineer with the Central railways said, “Money released by the Collector’s Office has lapsed as the funds sanctioned under the MPLAD scheme are supposed to be spent within a year.”
Rathod and residents of the area have now approached South Mumbai MP Milind Deora to fund the project. “The site where the project is proposed to come up is falls under two constituencies — South Mumbai and South Central Mumbai. MPs from both these constituencies will have to pool in resources to fund the project,” said Rathod. However, railway authorities feel that one foot over bridge at the station is sufficient for the existing passenger load.
An outpouring of anger and passion has greeted the conviction of seven former Union Carbide officials for negligence in the Bhopal gas disaster. This caused the immediate death of 3,787 people, and the ultimate death of 15,000 to 20,000 people whose lungs were corroded by the gas.
If this anger and passion results in greater safety and accountability, India will be a more humane and just country. The chances of this happening are zero. India remains basically callous and unaccountable. Tragedies greater than Bhopal are constantly ignored and dismissed as “chalta hai.”
Consider Mumbai’s suburban rail services. Activist Chetan Kothari used the Right to Information Act to get data on people killed in Mumbai by the Central and Western Railway, which run through the city. Answer: 20,706 people have been killed in the last five years. This is six times as high as Bhopal’s 3,787 immediate fatalities and higher than even the long-term fatalities estimated at 15,000-20,000.
On average, over 10 people die every day! If Maoists or Islamist terrorists kill 10 people, that is regarded as sensational news. But if the Mumbai rail system kills the same number every day, it is not even considered news. The information obtained by Kothari pertains to just five years, and to just one tiny part of the railways.
Fatalities across the railways for the last two decades could run into lakhs or the equivalent of five or six Bhopals. A similar RTI exercise is needed for people killed by state electricity boards through uninsulated, loose and dangling electric wires.
One estimate of accidental electrocution deaths in the 1980s was more than 3,000 per year. It is probably higher today. Again, this amounts to several Bhopals over the years. Here again we see no public outrage, only “chalta hai”.
The Times, the British newspaper, used the RTI to get a break-up of Mumbai fatalities. In 2008, 3,443 out of 4,357 fatalities occurred when trains mowed down people crossing the tracks. As many as 853 fell off or were thrown off moving trains. Another 41 were hit by trackside poles while hanging out of doors, and 21 were electrocuted by overhead wires while travelling on the roof.
Cynics will say this is different from Bhopal: those crossing the tracks and riding on roofs were breaking safety regulations and exposing themselves to danger. But in Bhopal too, the Union Carbide plant was located outside the town, and illegal shanty-towns came up around it, violating safety and urban laws. Does that lessen criticism of the gas leak?
Union Carbide was lambasted for not using the best technology available to avert risks and deaths. But do we castigate the railways for not investing in the best safety technologies, and creating barriers to stop people from crossing the tracks? Union Carbide was slated for negligence in a shutdown plant. But the railways continue to be negligent year after year in a running organization that runs down people.
Many of us howled for justice after Bhopal. Many demanded the arrest of Union Carbide chief Anderson. Those convicted last week included Keshub Mahindra, the non-executive chairman with a largely ceremonial position. How many of us have demanded even the dismissal, let alone conviction, of the railway staff, Railway Board members or railway minister for the continuing holocaust in Mumbai? The non-executive head of the railways is, formally, the President of India. Has anybody demanded that Pratibha Patil be prosecuted for continuing railway deaths?
Alas no. The public displays not the slightest concern about our dismal tradition of having unaccountable and unsackable government cadres, who remain in their jobs and get promotions despite the most outrageous negligence.
Let me cite a recent PTI report.
“Negligence by railway staff caused nearly half of all train accidents in the country during the last five years, official data has revealed. Of the 1,034 train accidents that have happened during the period 2003-2008, 488 of them, which accounts for 47.2 per cent, have been attributed to negligence by the railway staff, joint director of the safety directorate of the ministry of railways J S Bindra said in reply to an RTI application.”
There you have it, from the horse’s mouth. Yet none of those yelling for the blood of Union Carbide staff are yelling for the blood of railway officials. And so railway negligence and deaths continue unabated.
NGOs and the media suffer from a terrible double standard. They will pounce on negligence by a multinational, and rightly so. But they act as though the public sector has a licence to kill. That is disgraceful.