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.