Ideas and Action for a Better India
by Sudheendra Kulkarni
3,500. Yes, 3,500! That is nearly the number of people who get killed each year on train tracks in Mumbai’s suburban railway system (MSRS). And this has been happening year after year. It is the equivalent of a Bhopal Gas Leak tragedy (which killed about the same number of people in 1984) taking place every year.
However, there are two crucial differences between the Bhopal Gas Leak tragedy and the deaths on railway tracks in Mumbai. The former was an accident. The latter has been an utterly predictable annual occurrence for the past several decades.
Secondly, the Bhopal tragedy generated worldwide outrage. Yet, in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, the government (and also society at large) continues to be indifferent and inactive.
In his Budget speech in February, India’s new Railway Minister Shri Suresh Prabhu said, “Safety is of paramount importance. The loss of even a single life is too high a price to pay.”
Noble words of reassurance. However, sadly, the minister made no reference to the daily tragedy – nay, systemic crime – in Mumbai. Much less did he indicate the steps his ministry will take to stop the unconscionable and unacceptable number of deaths on MSRS.
The city’s suburban railway system, the first in India, is rightly regarded as Mumbai’s “life line” because it carries more than 7.5 million commuters daily by operating over 2,300 train services.
Is the life of these 7.5 million Mumbaikars so cheap that the Railway Ministry in New Delhi can continue to ignore the killing of nearly 3,500 persons in “accidents” on railway tracks each year?
‘KILLER TRACKS — Saving 3,500 lives on Mumbai’s Suburban Railway System’ is the title of the latest report, the most comprehensive and meticulously researched study so far on this subject, prepared by the Observer Research Foundation Mumbai (ORFMumbai). It is authored by my colleagues Dhaval D. Desai, Rishi Aggarwal and Deepa Dinesh.
The report was released by a group of survivors of railway accidents and bereaved family members in yesterday (March 24) at a press conference in the city. Shri Raj Thackeray, President of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, was the chief guest at the function. Shri Vivek Sahay, former Chairman of the Railway Board, was the guest of honour.
In the first photograph, you can see Samir Jhaveri, who lost both his legs in a railway accident. In the second photograph, standing between Raj Thackeray and me, is Monika More, the girl who lost both her arms in a railway accident.
The report not only describes the nature and the causes of the problem, but also offers a set of specific short-term and long-term recommendations. The most important recommendation is that Mumbai’s suburban railway system must be hived off from the Ministry of Railways and brought under the control of an autonomous Mumbai Metropolitan Region Railway Corporation (MMRRC).
I shall write more on this subject in future posts.