Jan 13, Mumbai-Seven years ago, the Bombay high court told the railways to give medical aid to train accident victims within the golden hour. On Friday, it issued show-cause notices to the Central and the Western Railway for not complying with court orders.
“The railways has been asked to reply to the notices within three weeks,” said Rajiv Singh, counsel for activist Samir Zaveri, the petitioner.
As per railway police statistics, about 3,600 people die and over 4,000 are injured every year on Mumbai’s suburban tracks. “The main cause of accidents is overcrowding; a train with a capacity for 1,500 passengers carries 8,500,” said Zaveri. “Commuters fall from running trains and due to failure to provide first aid, and delay in taking them to hospital-as ambulances are not available-many victims bleed to death.”
One of the major directions of the HC in its 2004 judgment was telling the railways to shift accident victims to the nearest private or government hospital. According to the direction, a victim is supposed to be taken to a private hospital if a government hospital cannot be found in a radius of five kilometres around the accident site; if the victim is indeed admitted to a private hospital, the railways is supposed to bear the cost of treatment. “This direction is routinely violated. For instance, despite the presence of private hospitals nearby, accident victims from Virar are taken to Bhagwati Hospital in Borivli, which is about 35 km away,” Zaveri’s petition claimed.
Zaveri submitted in court a CD of a sting operation. In it, a senior divisional medical officer of Western Railway, Dr Meena Sakher, reportedly says about expenditure on train accident victims: “Why should we spend money on beggars?”
Another direction of the 2004 order was that the railways had to provide free parking for ambulances at all stations. The railways invited tenders for the purpose, but did not receive bids.
Zaveri’s application to the court mentioned information obtained under the Right to Information Act, according to which an ambulance at Churchgate station had not been used for 20 years. Zaveri also submitted newspaper clippings and photographs to the court, showing victims being taken on hand carts instead of stretchers.
The two railways, in their affidavits to the court, said compliance with other directions, including building boundary walls along tracks, putting up fences between tracks and raising the height of platforms, was in progress. Friday’s notices were issued by Justice Shahrukh J Kathawalla. DIRECTIONS DISOBEYED | Bombay high court to railways in 2004
Direction: Shift victims to the nearest private or government hospital Compliance status: Not fully complied with. Victims are taken to public hospitals, some 35 km away from accident sites
Direction: Provide free parking for ambulances at railway stations Compliance status: Tenders invited, but no bids received. Victims are sometimes taken to hospital in hand carts
Direction: Provide stretchers, gloves for bearers and first aid kits Compliance status: Victims are touched without gloves. No paramedical staff or doctors are present at railway stations to administer first aid
Direction: Build boundary walls along tracks, put up fences between tracks and raise the height of platforms Compliance status: Work in progress
Direction: Provide foot over bridges at every station and keep them free of hawkers Compliance status: Work in progress at six stations. Hawker menace not tackled
Compliance status as per petition
The notices were issued by Justice S J Kathawala on petitions filed by a disabled activist Samir Zaveri. Zaveri pleaded that he had learnt through RTI that the Railways had not complied with earlier orders of the High Court to provide immediate attention to the victims by taking them to the nearest hospital. The petitioner contended that every year around 3600 persons get killed and another 7700 sustain injuries while either crossing the tracks or falling down from the speeding locals due to overcrowding in suburban trains.
Many a times, Zaveri said, first aid was not available at railway stations and there was also shortage of ambulances to take victims to hospitals as a result of which they died due to excessive bleeding. For instance, he said, victims who met with accidents at Virar station were transferred to government-run Bhagwati hospital in suburban Borivali, which was about 35 km away. The high court has already passed an order directing the railway authorities to shift victims to nearby private hospitals if government hospitals were not located within five kms radius of the accident site, Zaveri said.
The petition contended that by not attending to the victims immediately, the railways were violating their fundamental rights. He said this was also violative of section 57 of the Railways Act, 1989. Zaveri contended that Western Railway had to some extent followed the high court order but the Central Railway seemed to be totally ignorant of the court directives and had not taken any steps to implement the measures. The petitioner suggested that one of the methods to prevent accidents relating to the crossing of railway tracks was to undertake fencing on the boundary of railway premises. He said the costs incurred by the government or municipal hospitals in treating the injured would be much more than the cost of the proposed fencing.
Quoting the figures provided in RTI reply by Western and Central Railways, the petitioner said 598 and 2259 commuters were killed in accidents on the two railways respectively during 2008. He said that even at Churchgate station, the starting point on the Western suburban Railway, the authorities do not have adequate first aid.