Over three million Western Railway commuters will mark World Human Rights Day on Monday (December 10) with an unprecedented mass protest - a voluntary "boycott" of the local train services for the day to demand increased frequency of trains.
The move has been openly supported by all national, regional and local political parties, social and commuters' organisations, and more than 1,000 co-operative housing societies.
The 25 km-long target is between Dahisar (the last suburban station on Mumbai side) and Virar (the last station in adjoining Thane district), the northernmost sector in Western Railway (WR)'s 60 km-long suburban section.
The suburban sections, comprising WR, Central Railway and harbour lines are the lifeline of Mumbai and carry nearly eight million commuters to and from homes and offices daily.
The main demand is to introduce a service every 5 minutes instead of the present 10 to ease the crowds, deploying new rakes (trains) on this section and opening the Vasai-Diva link (which connects WR to south India) for suburban trains.
While many like SS Raju of Bhayander or teacher Rehana Maqbool of Vasai have decided to stay at home, hundreds of thousands other commuters are chalking out alternative plans to go about their routine.
Monday's proposed 'boycott' promises to be different from other similar agitations in the past which went out of control and turned violent, resulting in losses of millions of rupees to railway property in addition to human casualties.
"It will be a completely peaceful boycott by the commuters who are demanding that WR keep its own promises and improve the train travel conditions for the three million commuters who live in the target area," S. Kamble, convenor, Pravaas Adhikar Andolan Samiti, the umbrella organisation spearheading the boycott, told IANS on Sunday.
Kamble said that of the total 1,036 daily services, only 226 services operate on the Borivli-Virar sector though the population of this area has tripled in the past decade, standing at three million today. But train services have not kept pace with the massive development of this area, once considered a lawless wild west to the north of Mumbai.
"During morning-evening peak hours, 16-18 commuters are crammed in one square metre of standing space on this sector. People travel on rooftops or hang onto doors, windows. Due to such unsafe travel, an average three commuters are killed daily or over 1,000 every year only on this sector," Kamble said.
What has irked people in Mumbai is WR's failure to introduce additional services on this section despite an assurance by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad. It is the only route to commute to Mumbai; the other link is the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Western Express Highway but it is a long-winded route.
At the inaugural of the quadrupling of the Borivli-Virar section on June 30, the minister had said that 157 new imported rakes (trains) would be introduced on the suburban section by November. So far, only three rakes have come and one has been deployed, pointed out Kamble.
The WR has said it will deploy 24 new rakes every year. "At this rate, it will take seven years to fulfil Lalu's assurance," pointed out Kamble.
The organisers have urged police protection to ensure that lumpen elements do not take advantage of the situation and resort to violent tactics to break the 'boycott'.