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Indian Railways creaks under the strain of passenger volume and appears clueless about how to prevent trains and railway stations from turning into death traps for commuters. Its crumbling infrastructure makes risk assessments irrelevant. Lives are lost in a train accident one day, in a stampede another day. Tragedies like the stampede at the Elphinstone Road station are a reality check and puncture the claim that we are poised to become a superpower. The foot over-bridge built during the British era could not stand “population pressure”. Warnings of danger by public-spirited men, a member of Parliament and the Comptroller and Auditor General went unheeded.
The Railways now blames the stampede on “heavy rain” and “mob behaviour” and may now do no more than posting a few policemen at the bridge to regulate the flow of passengers. No doubt people need to behave more responsibly and avoid overcrowding. Common sense dictates that a bridge should be built or rebuilt with sufficient space and strength to accommodate a large number of people and hold even a multitude piling on it for whatever reason. But then the Railways should first learn to value the lives of travellers. That passengers are treated no better than cattle is exemplified by their scrambling to board trains and being packed like sardines inside the compartments. Launching bullet trains may create an illusion of development, erecting multi-crore giant-size statues may suit political inclination and renaming stations may reap political dividends, but these cannot substitute the upgrade of basic facilities in trains and at railway stations used by millions daily. Our leaders need to get their priorities right. Their first and foremost priority should be to augment infrastructure scientifically to ensure safety during train journeys and at heavily congested railway stations.
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