The rise in the number of accidents on Mumbai’s local trains has caught the attention of the Bombay high court (HC).
A day after a division bench issued directions on providing medical aid to passengers, another division bench of the high court on Wednesday suggested changing office hours to reduce the rush during peak hours.
A division bench headed by justice Naresh Patil issued a host of directions to the state and the railway authorities to control overcrowding and to ensure the safety of women passengers on local trains. It also suggested the timings of schools and colleges be adjusted accordingly.
The bench was hearing a bunch of petitions on the safety of passengers, particularly of women passengers on local trains. The bench has clubbed several similar petitions on the matter, including a letter written to the court by senior citizen AB Thakker. It has also taken suo motu cognisance of two reports published in HT in 2011 on the molestation of a 25-year-old woman on a local train bound for Navi Mumbai and on the security issues and harassment faced by women passengers on such trains during their daily commute.
On Wednesday, the bench observed both the railways and the state need to think beyond “traditional solutions” to control the problem of overcrowded local trains. “Look into shifting government offices away from south Mumbai. Change the timings of schools, colleges and offices. This way the rush hour crowd on trains will spread across the day. You cannot hide behind the excuse that these are traditional office timings and habits. What is more important— people’s lives or traditional working hours,” the bench asked.
It also asked the counsel for the state to inform Maharashtra’s advocate general Shrihari Aney about the court’s observations and directed him to take instructions from the state on participating in the operations of the local trains.
“The railways can delegate power. Will the state run local trains? The state will understand the city’s needs in terms of train capacity, timings, and frequency, and other such local issues better,” it said. The bench has given a month to the general managers of the Western and Central Railways to repair and upgrade women’s toilets on all stations.
The order came after one of the petitioners informed the court about a recent survey conducted by the NGO Akshara Foundation (see box) stated at least 61% of women passengers on local trains had faced instances of harassment in the form of unwanted stares, comments and touch from the male passengers. “It is a result of the administration’s laxity. We can’t even provide clean toilets and safe platforms for women passengers. How does this reflect upon the administration,” Justice Patil asked.