Mumbai on the death trail
Mumbai as a city has various surprises. It is the city of dreams, it is where people come to live the life of their dreams. But it could also be called the city, where people come to die. Death comes here in many forms. Sometimes you just die by sheer exhaustion (the least of all evils), sometimes you are victim to the bombs that keep going off every other year. Sometimes you fall into manholes, sometimes a tree falls on you, sometimes even a hoarding falls on you.
But if you have a death wish, your best bet is the daily commute, especially the lifeline of the city - the locals. An RTI query last year showed how 36000 people died on the tracks in 10 years, that's close to 10 people a day. Some might say that for a network that ferries over 7 million people daily, this is bound to happen. Some might even point out that most of the times it is the carelessness of the passengers themselves. After all quite a few of these deaths happen because people travel on rooftops or cross tracks instead of taking FOBs. Some even die because they are thrill seekers who had a bad day.
But the looking at the larger picture, the real reason for all these deaths is saturation. The locals that run daily are jam packed and though the railways have tried to increase the number of tracks; the increase in the number of trains never seem to match the increasing population. The hope before every budget is that some special package could be announced for Mumbai. Sadly, this hope has been mostly been crushed.
Many alternatives have been suggested to decongest the system. A metro, a monorail and even a trans harbor link are on the cards. But almost all of these projects have taken forever to complete. There is a hurdle at every step, right from mapping the route to sourcing materials to the actual construction. Many litigations and reconsideration later, the projects are still work in progress. The current budget talks of an elevated corridor along the existing network, a very ambitious project. But with the city's track record of project implementation, Mumbaikars joke they would be lucky if their children get to travel in it.
The BEST tries to absorb the load, but traffic jams and the loss making unit's inability to add more services means people prefer the faster and more reliable trains. Also trains are cheaper. This is the main cause of over-crowding. Packed like animals, it is little surprise that some people hang out the doors to get some air. Thursday's accident was about some such people. Jostling for space, they were hit by a metal extension of a signal that was around 4 feet away from the door. One can only imagine how packed the train was. And peak hour speed meant their bodies were thrown at least 50 feet away. 3 more numbers, to the ever increasing statistic.
As usual compensations have been announced and ministers have made the hospital rounds. The usual outrage against the authorities has also been expressed. But then again, everyone has to rush for the 8:45 local again. Another day in the life of a city, that increasingly has no choice but to carry on.