Lindsay Pereira: New names to hide old crimes

Jul 28, 2018, 06:05 IST | Lindsay Pereira

Why do the Rlys spend public funds on inane things such as the renaming of stations instead of focusing on giving travellers basic amenities?

Lindsay Pereira: New names to hide old crimes
On September 29, it will be a year since a stampede broke out at Elphinstone Road station, killing 23 people. File pic

Lindsay PereiraMy mother turns 66 this year. She still insists on public transport, for reasons that are still unclear to any of her children. Earlier this week, she stepped onto a fast train at Borivli that was supposed to drop her off at Grant Road in an hour. Somewhere between Jogeshwari and Andheri, the train came to a halt and didn't move for approximately half an hour.

There were no announcements made on the speakers that routinely ask us to use garbage bins. None of her fellow commuters had a clue about what was going on, until word mysteriously got around that an overhead cable had snapped, making it impossible for the train to continue. Left with no alternative, my mother and the women and children in the ladies' compartment with her, had to figure out how to get off the train and make their way to the nearest railway station. Some jumped, others chose to stay on because the idea of jumping onto a track isn't everyone's idea of a fun thing to do.

Women helped each other slide off slowly, thanking their respective gods for the fact that it wasn't raining that morning. Eventually, after a 20-minute walk alongside the filthy tracks, my mother reached Andheri station, took a delayed slow train and eventually reached her destination a little after 2.20 pm. Naturally, the delay meant all trains to and from Andheri were overcrowded, as passengers struggled to figure things out. There were no officials on hand to offer suggestions, alternatives or information. It wasn't rush hour either, which is why my mother and a few thousand other commuters managed to get to where they were going.

This happened less than 24 hours after an announcement made by the Western Railways about Elphinstone Station being renamed Prabhadevi to do away with the British era name. An official statement mentioned necessary changes being made on station boards, indicators and public address systems for the benefit of passengers, along with a new station code. It didn't specify what these benefits actually were, and how a change of name would actually lead to any benefits for anyone actually commuting to and from the station.

On September 29, it will be a year since a stampede broke out at this station, killing 23 people and injuring 39 others. A police investigation blamed overcrowding of the overbridge and slippery conditions caused by rain. Compensation was announced for victims, the President expressed grief, condolences were expressed by a few others, and one political party allegedly called the stampede 'a public massacre of the people by the government.'

Ask yourself if things have changed, the next time you find yourself at Elphinstone or any other railway station anywhere in Mumbai. Look around you. Check the amenities at the station, the facilities for senior citizens, women, children or the disabled. Check the gap between platforms and trains, and whether it seems safe. Look at security, and whether there are enough police personnel around to make you feel safe. Visit during rush hour, if possible, to see if your commute makes you feel like a human being as you try to switch from a slow train to a fast one. Think about what you can do to change things if given access to a budget.

We are constantly taken for granted, with wishes thrust upon us without permission. Politicians routinely absolve themselves of decisions by claiming them to be the wish of the people, even though everyone knows that people want better services instead of new names. This is why money that belongs to us is splurged on renaming stations instead of fixing them, and why politicians focus on cosmetic changes in the hope that we will forget the massive problems beneath. The stampede has been swept under the carpet because our fellow commuters who lost their lives last year have ceased to matter.

Apparently, a request for the change of name at Elphinstone had been raised back in 1991, which means political parties focusing on this issue had over a quarter of a century to fix everything that was wrong about the station. That they took 25 years to do nothing, but change its name is a sad reflection of who we elect as leaders and why we allow them to get away with murder.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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