“The trains are very crowded and terribly delayed,” apologised my very punctual executive assistant, “I missed 7 or 8 trains, finally managing to get into one by the skin of my teeth”. It was the day of the Western Railway tracks’ AC/DC conversion. No one knew what the fault was. Some attributed it to a crow short-circuiting the wires.
I dwelt no more on it, till that afternoon, when I received a chilling phone call. A young staff worker in our Nariman Point branch had failed to come to work and calls to his cell phone yielded no response. While his colleagues were still trying to trace him, his parents received a call at about 3 pm, from the police, asking them to identify his phone number. When they did so, they were informed that all that remained of their son was the sim card in his crushed mobile.
A few weeks later, we lost a second team member to a similar accident. These were not careless young people, but responsible and mature individuals. They died simply because their daily commute in a jam-packed compartment, with people spilling out of open doors, proved too dangerous.
To some, the annual death toll of approximately 4,000 Mumbaikars on our suburban rail lines is a rounding error— after all, millions travel every day. To the parents and families of these young men, as indeed to the families of every person who travels on the efficient but overcrowded network, these unnecessary deaths are symptomatic of a failures of governance. In terms of human capital, Mumbai ranks amongst the best. Its infrastructure ranks amongst the worst. There seems to be no thought or planning in terms of meeting the basic requirements of Mumbai’s citizens.
Why is this so and how can it change? Is there a constructive way forward? I believe there is. The choices and decisions we make can help either aggravate the problems or enable solutions. At a macro level, this starts with who we choose to govern our city, state and country. Despite decrying our leaders incessantly, Mumbai’s voter turnouts leave much to be desired. If we are absent during elections, it shouldn’t surprise us that our government functions in absentia. At a micro level, our individual choices can make a big difference to our collective life. How we consume, save or waste water is one example; how we dispose, recycle, segregate or compost garbage is another.
As far as public transport is concerned, there is no doubt that policymakers need to prioritise infrastructure upgrades. In the mean, can we, as citizens, play a part in changing Mumbai’s transport landscape? Shared below are three thoughts that I believe can help make a difference :
1) Redefine the Work Paradigm: Mumbai is no longer a manufacturing hub. The majority of our people work in the services industry. Technology today makes it possible for us to work in our own time and space while being perfectly efficient and connected. If corporates empower and enable staff to work from home and measure them on deliverables and outcomes instead of hours spent in office, we could add hours of productive time to their day, reduce the pressure on public transport and save costs in addition.
2) Be Pedestrian: Think for a moment of the thousands of commuters who exit VT and Churchgate every morning in the monsoon. After a harrowing train ride, they have to dodge potholes and traffic while struggling to keep dry. If instead, they had air-conditioned underground or elevated walkways, how much more comfortable this would be and how much more productive they’d be at work.
3) Think Flexible: In the foreseeable future, fuel prices are headed only one way—upwards. Car pools for those of us who need to drive have long been a sensible way to optimise costs. Communication technology now makes it possible to widen the pooling community across the city, making it possible for strangers to share cars effectively.
Much is said about the spirit of Mumbai. Through hell and high water, through bomb blasts and floods, Mumbai continues unflinchingly. The work ethic of our city surpasses that of any other city that I have lived or worked in. In and of itself, the fact that our children resume school and their parents go to work, despite the disasters that other cities have nightmares about, speaks volumes about both the character and courage of every Mumbaikar.
Time our city’s infrastructure matches up to its spirit.
The CEO of RBS in India, she was an independent candidate for the 2009 LS polls from South Mumbai
Infrastructure needs investment, as Dinesh Trivedi tried to highlight.
Train of Tokyo are more crowed than Mumbai but Japanese are very disciplined citizens they stand inquieto ascend in train,when train over crowded police push passengers inside train and shut the atomic doors.Between rail life there are thick iron wall so no railcrossing. .If Indians hate discipline cross the rail line abruptly daily how can we save death of 4000 people yearly?
It is very convenient to blame the goverment for every ill facing our contry but we shoud remember that democracy is a 2 way street with shared responsibility between the citizens and the administration.Culturally we hate rules and discipline and concern for other people's rights.,which is the root of all our problems.It is obvious that you get run over by a train when you cross tracks instead of using the overbridge.Wrong number,meera sanyal.
Crowded trains and related commuters’ deaths are just one of many indicators of the deteriorating quality life of the poor in Mumbai. Way of life in Mumbai is decided by so many factors at work, beyond the control of most of those who live in the city and in distant suburbs. City planners have almost given up as the growth in the number of commuters (both regular and those who visit city for business and pleasure) has been just unprecedented. Hence despite the Railways’ efforts to enhance the number and the passenger carrying capacity of local trains, commuters’ woes have largely remained unattended.
Decentralization of the government’s work which is all concentrated in south Mumbai was the original idea behind creation of a satellite township in Navi Mumbai. But the ministers’ and bureaucrats’ reluctance to move out of South Mumbai meant that businessmen too would prefer to have their offices in South Mumbai. This ultimately resulted in the present situation of commuters’ one way travel to places of work in South Mumbai. Some big companies have slowly started shifting their offices suburban areas. But on the whole there is not much change in traffic patterns.
Now that there is a possibility of work from home more and more business establishments have to try this way of office administration.
Lastly, if we have to deal with the failing infrastructure in all metros, there is no alternative to reducing pressure of migration of unskilled to these metros. For that a fundamental change in our macro economic policies is required; we need many create jobs in rural and semi-urban areas.
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