Mumbai: Walking on a 400m death line in Palghar

Updated: Aug 18, 2019, 07:08 IST | Diwakar Sharma, Suraj Ojha

How locals from two villages in Palghar are forced to stare death in the face every day, as they cross the 'killer' railway bridges built over the swollen Vaitarna river

Mumbai: Walking on a 400m death line in Palghar
Villagers seen squatting on one of the bridges, as a train passes by. Pics/Hanif Patel

Even as Palghar prepares to make room for the country's first bullet train, road infrastructure in several parts of the region continues to suffer neglect. For decades, the 2,000-odd residents of the villages of Vadhiv and Saravali in the district have been forced to walk through dirt roads and cross dangerous railway bridges, built over Vaitarna river, to reach the nearest railway station. Four people have died since March this year, after accidentally falling into the river, while attempting to cross the tracks on these bridges. The villagers are now demanding better road connectivity and a foot-over bridge to prevent any more casualties.

Vadhiv and Saravali are situated between Vaitarna and Safale railway stations, but there is no road to connect them to either of these stations. While Safale is nearly 10 km from the villages, Vaitarna station is 3.4 km away. In both the cases, it's only possible to reach the stations after crossing a 400m-stretch on the bridge—in this scenario, two separate railway bridges—built over the river.

Villagers seen walking over corroded metal sheets, placed above the gaps of a bridge, near Vaitarna station
Villagers seen walking over corroded metal sheets, placed above the gaps of a bridge, near Vaitarna station

Dangers of crossing

Since Vaitarna station is closer to the villages, residents take this one instead. This particular bridge was constructed in 1974, after a British-era bridge was brought down. "It's more dangerous to cross the bridge, when there are strong winds. Many villagers have slipped through the gaps and fallen into the river," said Praful Bhoir, deputy sarpanch of the gram panchayat. In emergencies, villagers have carried patients on their shoulders, while negotiating the precarious stretch. Senior citizens, pregnant women and children are also at a greater risk. "We have been talking about bullet trains, but even today, we don't have a foot-over bridge (FOB) or road to reach the nearby stations," Bhoir said.

On the insistence of the villagers, the Indian Railways had laid out metal sheets, affixed with nuts and bolts, to cover the gaps between the tracks. However, the metal sheets are either corroded or the nuts and bolts are missing. mid-day's reporter also crossed the tracks to get a first-hand experience. Apart from requiring nerves of steel while crossing the 400m stretch, this reporter also had to fight strong winds. "While crossing, we also have to keep tab of the oncoming trains on the tracks. If the train comes on the same track we are walking on, we immediately have to hop to the adjacent tracks," said Vadhiv-resident Sujata Parshuram Mali, 20, who works in Dahanu.

Villagers have fallen into the gaps and been swept away by the Vaitarna river
Villagers have fallen into the gaps and been swept away by the Vaitarna river

Twenty-year-old Mayuri Patil, who has to take the train to Palghar for college, said, "I am risking my life every single day. We keep getting news about some villager or the other losing their life to the killer bridge. I don't know why we have been neglected by the government."

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Reckless train passengers have only added to their woes. Often, villagers have to dodge religious offerings, including coconuts, which are thrown from the running train into Vaitarna river. "Many people have been injured after getting hit by coconuts. People need to be discouraged from throwing anything from the running train," said Divya Patil, another villager. "We have to squat if a train is passing on another track. Sometimes, we start chanting the Gayatri Mantra if a goods train is passing, as many people have died after being hit by the open door of its compartment."

Ramesh Bhagwan Patil died after he was knocked down by a train on April 11 this year, when he was heading to Virar for work. His wife, Sangeeta Patil, continues to take the stretch to reach Vasai, where she sells vegetables. "I am helpless, as I have to raise two children," she says
Ramesh Bhagwan Patil died after he was knocked down by a train on April 11 this year, when he was heading to Virar for work. His wife, Sangeeta Patil, continues to take the stretch to reach Vasai, where she sells vegetables. "I am helpless, as I have to raise two children," she says

Echoing the apathy of the authorities concerned, Deepika Rathe, the sarpanch of the gram panchayat of the two villages, said, "Despite making umpteen number of requests to the state and central governments to build a road, nothing has been done so far."

Lives lost
Every year, nearly 30 people either die or get injured, while crossing the bridges over Vaitarna river, said residents. The Indian Railways has placed a board for locomotives to blow the horn, while plying on these stretches. Two years ago, 45-year-old Ashok Patil lost his sister Rukmini, after she was mowed down by a local train. "She could not judge the track on which the train was coming," Ashok recalled.

Also Read: 14 children injured in road mishap after bus skids off road in Palghar

Praful Bhoir, deputy sarpanch, gram panchayat
Praful Bhoir, deputy sarpanch, gram panchayat

Twenty five-year-old Vinod Patil's father died after being hit by the door of the compartment of a goods train last year. "He was coming back home from Vaitarna station. Though he squatted next to the tracks, he hadn't expected to be hit by the door. We collected his body after one of the villagers alerted us," said Vinod. Ramesh Bhagwan Patil was knocked down by the train on April 11 this year, when he was heading to Virar for work. "He saw a train coming on the same track as his, and tried hopping onto a different track, when another train knocked him down," his wife Sangeeta Patil said.

Despite losing her husband, Sangeeta still walks between the same tracks to catch a local train to reach Vasai, where she sells vegetables. "I am helpless, as I have to raise two children." Only earlier this month, Babybai Bhoir, 58, lost her life after falling into the river. "Her daughter was admitted to a hospital in Palghar and she was heading to see her. It was raining heavily. While crossing the bridge, she lost her balance and fell into the swollen Vaitarna river. She swam for a few minutes, but drowned. Her body was recovered in Arnala five days later," Babybai's husband Ramesh said.

Also Read: Bullet train team brings in hi-end ambulance to Palghar tribal belt

When contacted, Ravindra Bhakar, chief PRO, Western Railway, said that they were looking into the issue. "We had a meeting with the state government's PWD department, and we highlighted the issues and incidents that have happened there. We have suggested an alternate FOB." Kailash Shinde, collector of Palghar district, said, "We are planning to arrange a boat for the locals. A road access is also being built for both these villages."

04
No. of casualties on these bridges since March

Map/Uday Mohite
Map/Uday Mohite

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