Sunday, July 16, 2006

Bomb Blasts in Mumbai Trains – It Happens Every Month

In the last week we have all been following the news of the Mumbai Bomb Blasts with great interest. Our hearts have gone out to the victims of this heinous terrorist action that killed almost 200 and wounded around 700. We can all feel the anguish of the victims’ families. July 2006 will always be remembered for this horrific incident. But suppose another 200 commuters were to meet their violent deaths in the Mumbai Suburban Rail network in August 2006 ? And yet another 200 in September ? And what if this keeps happening month after month ? Impossible, you say. But in reality this is already happening – in an average year about 3,500 commuters in the Mumbai Suburban Rail System meet a violent death. (link, link and link). That’s about 300 deaths a month. True, these are not caused by bombs – these are caused by accidents – easily preventable accidents. But a person crushed by a train while crossing the tracks is surely just as dead as one who is killed by a terrorist bomb. For his/her loved ones, the loss is surely no less. Why is it that we as a society are so callous regarding death and injury in accidents ? While we rightly demand that the government, police, intelligence agencies, etc., take steps to stop future terrorist attacks, why do we not demand that the government enhance safety measures to prevent accidents ? Why do we not demand that more cross bridges (maybe some with escalators) be built at busy railway stations in Mumbai so that people are less likely to walk across tracks to reach their trains ? Or that some sort of fencing be built between tracks at busy stations ? Or that an ambulance and a first aid station be made available – and most important, be actively manned – at all stations ? Or that compensation be provided to accident victims on par with terrorist victims ? And most importantly, why do we not demand more strongly that the transport infrastructure in cities like Mumbai be drastically improved so that people don’t have to commute to work hanging out of open doors in precariously overcrowded trains ?

Fortunately it does appear that there is some realization of how important it is to improve the transport infrastructure in Mumbai. The Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), which is currently underway, will hopefully improve the situation somewhat. And the decision to build a metro system in Mumbai (link and link) is also a step in the right direction.

An improved transport infrastructure is likely to greatly improve safety for commuters. However I feel that more needs to be done. I find the general apathy towards safety issues in India appalling, and it goes far beyond the Mumbai rail system. I find it shocking that Indians are so resistant to wearing helmets while riding two-wheelers. After all, it is estimated that 25,000 two-wheeler riders lose their lives every year in India – at least half of them preventable by the effective use of helmets (link). Some 400,000 children under the age of five die in India each year from easily preventable diseases, simply due to our woeful water infrastructure and the lack of basic sanitation facilities (link). Why is it that we are not too bothered by such appalling statistics ? Why is it that 300 deaths every month in the Mumbai Suburban Rail System are accepted by Mumbaikars as the normal and routine course of events ? Even among the NGO community there does not seem to be much interest in public safety issues. The only NGO that seems to have done anything significant to help accident victims in the Mumbai rail network is an organization called Manavta (link) - and I’m not even sure whether it is still active nowadays.

Next time you see people crossing tracks at a busy station, do try to dissuade them. Do wear a helmet if you are riding on a two-wheeler. And when you remember the victims of the Mumbai train blasts, do also spare a thought for the thousands of other commuters who are killed and injured every year in accidents on the same train system – unlamented, unnoticed and unremembered by the people of Mumbai.

Please note that my point here is not to somehow excuse or downplay the recent terrorist act in Mumbai, but to use this incident to highlight the need for overall improvement in public safety. I believe that the strongest possible action must be taken in the fight against terrorism, especially against who promote the ideology and infrastructure of terrorism – the Pakistan Army, Saudi Islamic “charities”, etc. I believe that India-Pakistan peace is impossible as long as the Pakistan Army remains in control of the Pakistani state, and so the “peace process” currently underway is futile anyway. But then, that is a topic for another blog.


Blogger ggop said...

Thank you for this reminder. On a related note, I would often marvel at the way things just worked ok in the roads while visiting Chennai despite the chaotic traffic. But no! Open when I opened The Hindu paper and there was a whole page devoted to the day's accidents once a week.

I know this is a cliche but is the value of life just cheaper in India?

July 18, 2006 2:40 PM  
Blogger impulsar said...

At one time (when i was in mumbai), I had seriously thought of filing a PIL on the unsafe travel in mumbai trains.
I am sure no rules, guidelines on maximum load, safety equipments are followed in these trains. I still thin that is the way to get things moving.

July 19, 2006 1:55 AM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

It is not that the PIL route has not been tried. See this petition. In response the Mumbai High Court passed this excellent judgment in 2004.

The above judgment gives the following directives (among others).
(i) The Railways shall notify an emergency telephone number and shall widely publicize the same in all compartments, stations and other public places. The calls made to the said number shall be monitored by a special cell situated in the control room which shall be open for 24 hours. The personnel of such cell shall immediately contact nearest Station master/s at the place of the accident. Such cell shall maintain records of the calls received as well as follow up reports.
(ii) Free parking for an ambulance outside all stations to be provided by Railways and the State Government wherever parking is available.
(iii) The ambulance/taxi should be called by the Station Master or his representative.
(iv) Sanction of funds for (a) Hammals/Porters and (b) Ambulance/taxi for transporting the victim from the accident spot to the hospital and if shifting of victim to the other hospital as required.
(v) Immediate shifting of accident victim to nearest hospital (Private or Government). The list of the ambulance services and the hospitals submitted by Mr.J.P.Cama, learned counsel for the petitioner, shall be made available to all the Station Masters.
(vi) Minimum Two light weight folding or collapsible stretches in all Stations and they are to be cleaned after every use. One rechargeable torch on every station, disposable sterilized hand gloves and first aid box at each station.
(vii) Printed format of Memo of reporting accident by Station Master to the Government Railway Police.
(viii) Walkie Talkie in all trains in Central Railway till Train Management System is introduced.
(ix) A Committee consisting of Divisional Medical Officers of each Railway,Dean of Municipal Hospital and Additional Commissioner of Police should monitor that the guidelines are being followed. One doctor nominated by Association of Medical Consultants be also included in the Committee. Committee will also hear the complaints. The Committee should submit its six monthly report to the General Manager of each Railways. The Committee should meet at least one in two months.
(x) The Railways undertake that in order to prevent accidents, a boundary wall on both sides of the track wherever possible would be erected and existing walls be repaired.
(xi) Fencing in between two platforms shall be carried out as expeditiously as possible.
(xii) Every Station should have foot overbridge. Efforts should be made to keep them clean and free from hawkers and beggars.

So a reasonably good court judgment already exists. What is needed now is for people to file RTI applications asking the Railways what is the current status and future plan of implementation of the above court directives.

July 19, 2006 9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey... came across yr blog while searching for laws for safety at stations... we're planning to file a PIL against the WR authorities for failure to provide security. anyway, its nice to see at least some ppl talk about stuff that actually matters... u gotta see the apathy of the ppl here. the govt. as well as the ppl who mite jus die next!

wish u luck,

July 24, 2006 2:58 AM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

Hi Sonali, its great to see that public spirited people like you are willing to actually do something. I think one thing that can be done right away is to file RTI applications asking WR (and CR) what are the safety measures that they currently follow. Some safety regulations already exist (see this). RTI can be used to ask to what extent these regulations are enforced. There are many RTI-savvy individuals and groups in Maharashtra who can help with RTI applications. For more on RTI see this and this.

July 24, 2006 11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey... where did u get that PIL info from??? we're already in touch with Mr J.P. Cama for a tree authority PIL! dint know he could help out with this one too :) im happy... needed some guidance badly...

while we're discussing this, dont u think sumthin shud be done abt those sickos who cut off kidnapped kids limbs and force them into begging?? dad's tryin to do sum stuff to see to it that they get the worst punishment possible... any suggestions..?


August 01, 2006 5:49 AM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

Hi Sonali, children being mutilated and forced to beg is the worst form of child labor. Unfortunately it is so common - there are as many as 11 million child laborers in India (link). It is interesting that you bring up this issue today as just today the central govt. has passed a new order banning domestic child labor. See this and this.

There are many NGOs in India working on this and related issues, whom you can contact. Some NGOs that deal directly with child labor are:
1. Childline
2. Bachpan Bachao Andolan (unfortunately not active in Mumbai it appears)

Some organizations working to educate street/slum/construction kids in Mumbai are Pratham, and on a smaller scale Doorstep Schools (who I know personally thru Asha for Education).

Also see my post on a related issue - bonded labor - here.

August 01, 2006 5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey... ur turnin out to be a minefield of information.... :) thanks... a friend of mine was plannin to join the youth wing of raj thackeray's party (sorry if its spelt wrong). n she says that its far removd from the goondagardi that shiv sena is notorious for... any idea if its true??? or is it jus another load of hogwash... i believe in the idea of gettin in the system rather than sittin on the side n cribbin... but i also don wanna be mislead into crap... lemme kno wat u think...


August 02, 2006 7:51 AM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

Hi Sonali, thanks a lot for the compliment.

I have no idea whether Raj Thackeray's reputation for goondagardi is truly justified or not - after all, all politicians (except people like Rahul Gandhi, etc.) have to do some amount of goondagardi, otherwise they will disappear. You and your friend who are in Mumbai (I am not) can observe things at close quarters and judge for yourself much better than I can. If your friend feels that she can do something good by joining Raj's MNS she should definitely do so. In general I do feel that educated and motivated people who want to do something good for society (like you and your friend) should become more involved in the political process. I agree with you that it is much better to get in in the system rather than sitting on the side and complaining all the time. But at the same time, you have to use your judgement. If joining Raj's party means having to spend all her time and energy fighting against Uddhav's people, then maybe it is not worth it. If she finally decides not to join a political party, she can still become active by joining some NGO, or filing PILs, etc. like you were contemplating.

August 02, 2006 7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nrgthow cum u kno so much that's happening here? i've been thinkin bout the same stuff... whether its glorified version of party propaganda or ppl genuinely wantin to mke a diff... wish there were some clear answers... :(

anyway, i'd sure lik 2 kno how ur so well informed...

tak care,

August 03, 2006 3:16 AM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

Hi Sonali, for some reason your last comment did not appear on the main blog page (it appears on the comments page though), so I didn't see it earlier. Anyway, thank you very much for the compliments. I am flattered!!

August 08, 2006 10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think you are right

- anil

August 29, 2006 7:41 AM  

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