The manner in which so many individuals were crushed to death in Mumbai as a consequence of weakness in a railway passenger overbridge indicates the way in which the urban commuter in that city has been neglected over the years. Suburban trains in Mumbai are often the cause of deaths of several passengers, some of whom fall to the ground from moving trains. If a single VVIP cancelled his foreign travel in a particular instance, thereby freeing the exchequer from bearing the cost of a Boeing 747 (as well as a spare aircraft in several instances), together with savings in hotel and other expenses, that would ensure sufficient funds to rectify some of the defects of the railway infrastructure in India’s Maximum City. It is a matter of surprise that in the land of Mahatma Gandhi, our leaders still go around the globe in the manner of the President of the United States, who too gets transported aloft a Boeing 747, as does the President of China. Given the extreme poverty of hundreds of millions of people in India, it is to be hoped that a VVIP will show the way by taking a commercial flight to a destination rather than experience the pomp of a single aircraft just for his travel. Too much gets spent on our VVIPs and VIPs in the land of Mahatma Gandhi. Motorcades of over twenty vehicles are common, with most of them being foreign brands. Why should they rely instead on foreign brands for their transportation? There is much talk of simplicity and the need to ensure succour to the poor. However, what continues instead are the horrors seen two days ago in Mumbai. The poor in Mumbai perish because there are no overbridges over major highways, thereby forcing them to risk their lives each time they cross a road. They perish on overbridges as took place in Mumbai, because these have not been examined for defects for decades, if not for over a century. They perish in the many accidents that occur on the roads and railway lines of India, when overcrowded highways and obsolete equipment that is a danger to life continue to exist. When will the authorities pay heed to the lament of commuters in Mumbai and ensure their safety, if not comfort? For how long will the suburban train system continue to be a death trap? There has not been a single accident in the Shinkansen or bullet train in Japan for the five decades of its operation. However, it would be rash to expect similar results from India, where standards of maintenance and safety are still primitive. There are calls for the “guilty” to be punished. But who are they? Those presently in charge of the station, who clearly do not have the powers needed to ensure better facilities? Those earlier in charge, who were responsible for present-day conditions? The blame must vest in the highest levels of the Railway administration, where for decades too many Railway Ministers have merely stuffed their coffers and padded the rolls with supporters. Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying very hard to improve matters, yet the rot goes too deep for a quick cure.
The people of Mumbai suffered the ravages of nature in 2005 exactly the way New Orleans at the other end of the globe did. Yet they refused to react the way that US city did, where looting and mayhem followed the flooding caused by rains. In Mumbai, even pickpockets took a break, crime levels actually coming down. During natural calamities, every Mumbaikar displays the exemplary spirit of the most important commercial centre in South Asia by his or her calm and fortitude. This despite the fact that the infrastructure of Mumbai is creaky and badly in need of a makeover. However, what took place on Friday in Mumbai was not an act of nature, although accompanied by rain. It was caused by negligence at all levels. Obviously, unsafe structures have been allowed to bear the weight of tens of thousands of commuters daily, in a roulette wheel where sudden death is among the outcomes. Giving Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased is a gesture revealing of the absence of social security in India. A taxpayer works all his life, but if this be cut short, all that his family gets is usually a tax notice. The army of officials and the panoply of power in India must be lubricated with taxes collected from the citizen, the same citizen who dodges potholes on sidewalks and waves of mosquitoes and other pests from stagnant pools of water that are plentiful all across a city. Despite collecting a Swach Bharat cess from taxpayers, our cities are still a study in grime and filth. That such is the situation exactly seven decades after the British took down the Union Jack from South and North Block is testimony to the failure of the leadership in India to ensure proper policies and their implementation. Their wilful neglect of duty is the cause of the suffering and pain that citizens endure. This was on horrible display in Mumbai, when victims of the railway overbridge tragedy staggered off from the vicinity of the accident. It is doubtful that any at the top will take the blame. Instead, some minion will be held to account and perhaps even jailed, with more minnows punished when the next tragedy occurs. The pain of Mumbai will be felt everywhere that the sorrows of poverty, of poor housing, nutrition, health and sanitation are being endured by countless millions of citizens.