Insurance firm ad 'kills' people on rail tracks

Apr 24, 2013, 10:14 IST | Shashank Rao

Birla Sun Life paints random names and years of death between tracks at Sion, with a reminder that shortcuts can end life; ad agency JWT says this is to spread awareness, but railway distances itself from campaign

There is no need to drop your jaw if someone you know is alive and kicking has his epitaph engraved on - and this is unusual - the railway tracks before Sion. It’s a new-age publicity device, apparently coupled with goodwill for the janta. In an initiative allegedly meant to raise awareness about the pitfalls - namely death and mutilation - of crossing railway tracks, a leading insurance company has written off some people for dead right between the tracks.

For good measure, messages asking people to refrain from trespassing on the tracks have been added. The railways have dissociated themselves from the gimmick, claiming they only gave it the nod thinking it was a non-profit organisation concerned for the life of commuters. But when the company logo shone bright alongside the undead, it dawned on them that it was just another advertising scheme.

Names of people and their imagined years of death painted on the sleepers fastening the tracks before Sion railway station. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Writ in cement
Names of some randomly selected people have been painted on 100-odd sleepers (cement blocks fastening the two rails) by Birla Sun Life Insurance. The patch with the faux-obituaries stretches for a good 60 metres, on the line going northward to Thane along platform one. Names, messages and the company logo have been painted on the sleepers on the length of the tracks.

JWT, the ad agency handling Birla Sun Life, said that the intention was to inform trespassers about those who have lost their lives while crossing tracks all because they did not take the foot overbridge (FOB).

Remarkably, the hale-and-hearty people passed off for dead apparently do not mind. A JWT official said, “These are not victims who died while trespassing. No-objection certificates have been taken from the people whose names were to be used.” Normally, any advertisement 60 metres in length would have cost any company a fat lot.

‘Ground the pilot’
The railways say it was a case of mistaken motive. “Initially, we were approached by a group of youngsters who wanted to take forward this initiative for the good of the public. However, when the work began, we realised that this was part of an insurance company’s campaign,” said a senior Central Railway (CR) official on condition of anonymity.

Sources in the CR say this is a pilot project, and permissions were given 10 days ago only for the abovementioned stretch. The official from the ad agency insists, “The company (Birla Sun Life) doesn’t want any publicity for itself. It is doing this for creating awareness among people.”

But the CR authorities are mooting for restraining all the “awareness” the company wants to generate. And they don’t want this pilot to take off. We don’t want to promote a private company, the railways say. “We have not given permissions to replicate it. This is not an initiative of the railways,” said V Malegaonkar, chief public relations officer of the Central Railway.

It has been learnt that officials from Birla Sun Life had approached CR authorities to take the project forward and make it workable at other places where trespassing is rampant. The railways are meditating on whether to bury all the painted obituaries by coating them in white paint.

3,600 die on tracks every year
>> Trespassing is a serious and fatal offence. Nearly 3,600 people die every year on tracks either while crossing tracks, falling off a moving train or other reasons
>> The railways have been asked to take such injured to the nearest hospital for treatment
>> Recently Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan stated that people needed to make use of FOBs and subways rather than crossing tracks 

They are not dead
Some of the names painted on the tracks:
Shilpa Lakhani: 1982-2012
Karan Ranghva: 1949-2011
Siddharth Joglekar: 1972-2012
Abhinav Upadhyay: 1976-2012
Nishant Kulshresht: 1982-2012

The Other Side
JWT India's spokesperson said in a statement, “JWT conceptualised this campaign to spread awareness among railway passengers who cross the tracks, oblivious of the danger to their lives. Deaths due to negligent crossing of railway tracks is a growing reality. And we at JWT wanted to partner the railways with a public awareness campaign. We shared the idea with the railway authorities who were enthusiastic to spread this campaign across railway stations. However, before going ahead, we were asked to put up a mock-up for their review, which we have done. We then approached our client, Birla Sun Life Insurance, to fund this good cause, to which they readily agreed.”

Go to top