Monday, March 5, 2018

88000 crores Bullet Train project - OK, 88 rupees safety vest - NOT OK

Indian railways can afford an 88000 crores Bullet Train project but not an 88 rupees safety vest

Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train
Pic credit:

At 4.45 am in the morning while mentally planning for a client appointment I drove my car out of my apartment. Within few minutes, I was about to get past the railway gate located very close to my home in Yelahanka. Yelahanka is in the North of Bangalore and is located in a very busy passenger and freight train corridor. Many trains arrive into Yelahanka/Bangalore city early in the morning and there are more chances to find the railway gate closed at that early hours.

Luckily, the gate was open. The weather meter in my car dashboard indicated 16 deg Celsius and the early morning silence was slowly broken by my car stereo with a devotional song.  I was slowly approaching the railway cross.

All of sudden, I noticed a ghostly image of a woman wearing a red scarf, with torchlight in her hand and slowly walking towards the middle of the road along the railway track. I was further amused to find this ladylike figure quickly sat down in the middle of the track. 

"What was she trying to do?" I nearly stopped my car at a safe distance. I cut the volume and picked my phone to capture this unusual sight.

Interestingly, she was a familiar figure. This lady works as a guard at the railway gate and one can often find her operating the gates. I was wondering what she was doing in the middle of the track at that hour without any fear of oncoming random traffic. She did not get up even after noticing my car headlights or another one approaching the tracks from the opposite direction. She was busy doing something on the track.  That's when I noticed a brush and a tray in her hand and she was collecting something from the track.  

She was removing loose stones and sand deposited on the tracks.  She must be very brave to do anything like that and did not move even when another vehicle approached the level-crossing and went past her with mindless honking.  This lady was undeterred and was totally focussed on cleaning the track.  I decided to step down from my car to talk to her about her safety.  It was at the same time the another car crossed her in the opposite direction and went past my vehicle.  I saw her slowly walking into her cabin.  I didn't want to be late for my client's appointment and I decided to interact with her later that day.  With loads of mixed emotions, I left that place.

Two days later, I met this lady and spoke to her.  What a surprise! she confidently spoke to me in good English.  She is a graduate and lives in a nearby village.  When I enquired about the safety standards and why she would risk her life, she said, Sir, it is my duty to keep the railway cross clean and also ensure the surrounding area to be clean from garbage.  My primary responsibility is to make sure the railway gate is closed and opened on time.  Secondly, I must keep the railway track clean otherwise I'll receive a possible suspension from my higher authorities. She did not talk much about the safety procedures that she was supposed to follow.  

It was obvious that she took a lot of pride in wearing the Railways uniform and it was unfortunate to note that the railways haven't provided with a (simple) 100 Rs. safety helmet or an 88 Rs. reflective jacket.  

Ever since, I have the following thoughts/questions in my mind,
  • The Indian government has launched an ambitious multi-billion dollar Bullet Train project, great to know that and I'm sure such projects come with impeccable safety standards.  At the same time, there are millions of kilometers of Indian Railways has thousands of such manned railway crossings and every single railway level cross has a person manning the level cross to clean the rail tracks.  
  • 28,607 level crossings across the country of which 19,267 are manned and 9340 are unmanned (Source: Indian Express)
  • Regular inspection is done by railway engineers regarding the tracks.  I've only seen men doing such work
  • How can a women worker be allowed to work at 4.45 am, risking her own safety?
  • How many times we all travel in a train and wish our journey to be a safe one?  Also, there is always a lot of discussion about improving the safety of rail travelers.  Who is taking care of the occupational hazards of such low-level workers who complete a vital link in providing the required safety for the passengers?

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