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Dear Piyush Goyal, a note from Mumbai’s commuters

Here’s requesting Piyush Goyal, the hard-working and well-meaning minister, to lend us — millions of average suburban train commuters — a patient ear

mumbai Updated: Nov 29, 2017 23:46 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Railway minister,Piyush Goyal
Union railway minister Piyush Goyal at Elphinstone Road station during his Mumbai visit on Monday.(Anshuman Poyrekar/HT Photo)

Union railway minister Piyush Goyal is a fortunate man. He was in Mumbai on Monday to take a stock of various projects. After reviewing the construction of foot overbridges at Elphinstone Road station and the status of the Currey Road station bridge, he travelled from Parel to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) in a suburban train with commuters and finally went around the world heritage terminus building. At the end of this, he took ill.

Goyal complained of severe stomach pain and threw up a couple of times. Officials called for a railway doctor and an ambulance. Before he could be escorted into an ambulance, he was in his car, which given its status, reached one of the city’s best private hospitals in minutes. This was his good fortune. Here’s wishing Goyal, the hard-working and well-meaning minister, a speedy recovery and requesting him to meanwhile lend us — millions of average suburban train commuters — a patient ear.

Sir, you must have walked the precincts and platforms of railway stations that day. They, as almost all other stations along the Western and Central railway, are usually far dirtier, more crowded and ill-equipped to handle an emergency. There are dozens of stories of how the injured in train, track or platform accidents had to be kept waiting for precious minutes because primary medical aid and ambulances were not available at railway stations.

Veteran commuters will share stories of how the injured have been dragged by co-commuters to a bench or just any spot with minimum filth, how handcarts serve as stretchers and hawkers turn first responders, how first aid kits at stations are a sad apology and how paramedics are a far-fetched dream. You would know, sir, that Mumbai’s suburban railway carries 7.5 million commuters a day — that’s the population of Hong Kong or twice the population of New Zealand. Surely, we deserve a better, functional and sophisticated emergency medical response system.

Perhaps a few of the 10 commuters who die every day in suburban railways can be saved if medical facilities at stations were upgraded. The sheer inadequacy of this was brought home during the July 2006 train blasts in which 188 people died and a staggering 816 were injured. This attack somehow pales in the face of the 26/11 terror siege but it was a dagger through the heart of this city. The injured were carried to hospitals in bed-sheets and taxis.

Sir, in March 2015, the Bombay high court directed the railways to provide emergency medical services at all stations. This should include an ambulance and trained professionals at every station, the court said while dismissing the railways’ argument that such facilities lie unused and could only be provided at stations with high footfalls. The state government eventually provided 48 ambulances but the railways did not even pay for these in time. Are the lives of Mumbai’s train commuters cheap and undeserving of emergency care?

It would be marvellous to have AC trains to travel in; thank you, sir, for pushing your department to start them next month. It would be great to have a transport museum at the CSMT to showcase India’s incredible railway network and commemorate its first commercial passenger train service.

But, sir, if you could draw up a priority list of work to be undertaken, it would have to read somewhat like this: prevent or attend promptly to rail fractures which endanger lives and disrupt services, put more rakes on tracks, raise platform height at all stations immediately so that commuters do not fall into the gap between the platform and trains, ensure emergency medical services are available round-the-clock at all stations, provide 24x7 security at all stations, arrange for wide bridges, clean washrooms and unencumbered walking areas in railway precincts.

The museum and all the jazz can wait.

First Published: Nov 29, 2017 22:33 IST