Mumbai: Decision of allowing women to take local trains on track?

Updated: 17 October, 2020 07:09 IST | Dharmendra Jore, Rajendra B Aklekar | Mumbai

Letters flying back and forth over allowing women to travel during non-peak hours expose communication gap between state govt officials and railway counterparts

Women commuters wait for a train at Kurla earlier this month. Pics/ Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Women commuters wait for a train at Kurla earlier this month. Pics/ Sayyed Sameer Abedi

The state government on Friday in a letter to the railways said it is allowing all women on local trains with regular tickets/passes October 17 onwards. The suburban rail administration has, however, said it cannot do so at a day's notice. A letter from the state Disaster Management and Relief & Rehabilitation had said women commuters may travel on trains between 11 am and 3 pm and from 7 pm till the last train and requested railways to increase frequency of local trains.

Commuter Ashwin Gindra, who had tweeted requesting this a day before, welcomed the decision. Gindra said, "Working women have been suffering. Transport by road is not only is expensive, but also very tiring. I had tweeted to Aaditya Thackeray on Thursday." Cheers went up on Twitter as the state government's letter went viral.

'Cannot start immediately'

The railways, however, shot off a letter to the Maharashtra government saying that it would not be practical to do so immediately. "The letter has been referred to the Railway Board, New Delhi, and once approval is received, then such permission can be communicated to you. Without getting permission, it would not be possible to permit women during the stated hours from October 17," a letter from the railway operations managers said.

State govt has suggested non-peak hours for the arrangement. PIC/SURESH KARKERA
State govt has suggested non-peak hours for the arrangement. PIC/SURESH KARKERA

Further, the railways requested to assess the quantum of passengers, which is likely to increase. It suggested a joint meeting between Railway officials and state government to work out the modalities. Further action will be taken accordingly, it added.

"We do not know how much crowd will come. If people start gathering outside railway stations from tomorrow morning, who will be responsible? Such decisions cannot be taken randomly. It will require an assessment of how many lady commuters would arrive and elaborate planning would be required. It cannot be done overnight with just a letter, some thought would need to go into it to make arrangements and prepare the staff," a senior official said on condition of anonymity. Sources said that even in the case of Metro, the government sent such a letter on October 14, asking for the services to begin from October 15. However, the Metro team announced that they would not be able to begin services before October 19. Such arrangements need planning and back-ups before people are allowed to gather.

'You forgot we met'

Denying that it was a unilateral announcement, the state government said that in an October 13 meeting of all stakeholders, including railways representatives, city and railway police, civic authorities and Mantralaya officials, Saturday was decided as the day to start the trains for women. The meeting was held at Additional Municipal Commissioner P Velrasu's office.

A senior official from the Disaster Management department said he was surprised when a railway officer called him on Friday evening, asking for a meeting. "The railway officer did not know we had already decided. The letter Maharashtra government sent to the railways on Friday was a mere formality. And what quantum of passengers does the railways has to decide? We have given them the weekend to figure out their plans. We have also suggested non-peak hours," said a senior bureaucrat.

Railways says it needs time to get permissions in place and assess how passenger volume will change. PIC/Suresh karkeraRailways says it needs time to get permissions in place and assess how passenger volume will change. PIC/Suresh Karkera

He said the non-peak ridership of the trains was less than 50 per cent on weekdays. Trains go empty from Churchgate after 7 pm. "What problem does the railways has with us?" he asked. The bureaucrat added that the time taken to seek the Railway Board's permission is understandable. "The permission may come tonight itself or tomorrow. But why are the local railway officials creating problems by raising unnecessary obstacles? These officers don't even remember the meetings we had together," he said.

Late in the evening, the railways wrote to the State again in a softer tone, asking to wait for the permits and have a meet to decide COVID rules.

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First Published: 17 October, 2020 07:05 IST

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