Railways to build pathway along bridge over Vaitarna river

Updated: Sep 29, 2019, 08:11 IST | Diwakar Sharma, Suraj Ojha | Mumbai

Following mid-day's story highlighting the dangers that residents of two villages in Palghar have to face every day, Indian Railways has agreed to build a pathway along the railway bridge over the river Vaitarna

Indian Railways has agreed to build a pathway along the rail bridge but it will be for railway maintenance staff and for emergency purposes only
Indian Railways has agreed to build a pathway along the rail bridge but it will be for railway maintenance staff and for emergency purposes only

Residents of Vadhiv and Saravali villages of Palghar district have heaved a sigh of relief on learning that the Indian Railways has agreed to build a pathway along the railway bridge that connects their villages to Vaitarna railway station. At the moment, residents of the two villages walk on corroded metal sheets over the bridge, dodging oncoming trains. Sometimes unsuccessfully.

This year, between March and September alone, four people have died while attempting to cross the bridge. Several others have been injured after being hit by religious offerings that passengers throw out of the running train into the river. mid-day highlighted these issues on the front page of the August 18 edition. A day later, railway authorities installed signs at both ends of the bridge warning locals that it wasn't a public thoroughfare. Local youth promptly tore down the signs.

Villagers against a banner of the mid-day report highlighting their problems
Villagers against a banner of the mid-day report highlighting their problems

Now, a source in Indian Railways confirmed to mid-day that a pathway is indeed being built alongside the railway track. "The sample of girder for making the pathway is ready. The Chief Engineer Bridge (CEB) will visit Vaitarna from Churchgate to inspect it. Once the CEB approves it, we will expedite the ongoing work," the source said. "The total width of the pathway will be one metre. Of this, the walkable space will be 0.75m," a railway official said. However, it is important to note that the pathway will be for railway maintenance staff and for emergency purposes only.

Ravindra Bhakar, chief public relations officer, Western Railway points out: "Railway board has directed that railways may consider providing side pathways on girder bridges wherever technically feasible to ensure safety of maintenance staff as well as for use in emergency." Another senior officer of the Indian Railways also stressed that the pathway is not meant for public use. "Those found using it, will be prosecuted for trespassing," the officer said.

Eligible men say the pathway will open a flood of marriage proposals
Eligible men say the pathway will open a flood of marriage proposals

But the villagers aren't complaining. Praful Bhoir, deputy sarpanch of Vadhiv-Saravali Gram Panchayat, says that they will use the pathway all the same. "We understand it's illegal [to walk on the railway tracks and the upcoming pathway]," he says, "But we're helpless. At least [with this upcoming pathway], our lives won't be at stake."

Kalpesh Patil adds, "The condition of the villagers is so bad that we have to walk for kilometres to reach from one village to another as there is no public transport. If we run out of fuel, we have to buy petrol from black marketers by paying as much Rs 100 per litre from Palghar." The legality is a mere technicality. For everyone, it's a happy resolution to a  festering issue.

Deepika V Rathod, the sarpanch of Vadhiv-Saravali Gram Panchayat
Deepika V Rathod, the sarpanch of Vadhiv-Saravali Gram Panchayat

Even Deepika V Rathod, the sarpanch of Vadhiv-Saravali Gram Panchayat, agrees. "It will be a huge relief for all of us. Once the pathway is ready, it will be easier and safer for us to carry patients to the hospital," she says. For others, such as 60-year-old Ashok Patil, it means his friends and extended family can come visit him without the fear of being mowed down by a train. His daughter-in-law Swati Patil is also hoping to receive her maternal family at her home more often.

They come from Kandrebhure, a village only 5 km away from Vadhiv, but have visited her no more than twice in the four years of her marriage because "it's very dangerous to walk between the tracks". She adds: "I am thankful to mid-day because now the pathway is being made and my parents and siblings can visit me safely." Patil recollects that her mother was apprehensive of marrying her off into Vadhiv for the very reason before succumbing to family pressure.

By some estimates there are nearly 150 men of marriageable age in the two villages. Gaurav Mhatre, 25, is one among them and has been keen on finding himself a suitable girl for some time now. On his 23rd birthday, Mhatre got over 100 t-shirts made with 'Kunwara Boy' printed over them in the hope of getting hitched. Three years later, he's still single. But the prospect of the bridge has made him hopeful again.

"I expect that eligible bachelors like me will now get good rishtas from decent families," he says. For Ashwin Bhoir, 42, it will mean saving a few thousand rupees every month. Bhoir, a BMC employee currently rents a flat in Safale even though his ancestral home is just a few kilometres away in Vadhiv because he's terrified with the prospect of walking on the bridge. "I often get late after work so I cannot walk on the bridge that late," he says. With the walkway, Bhoir says he'll feel safer and won't have to live on rent anymore.

But not everyone has it easy. Take the case of Santosh Patil, 40, who's physically challenged and must take the bridge every day to board a train for work to Safale. "It takes me more than 30 minutes to get from one end to the other," he says, "I've always found it very unsafe, but I don't have a choice."

The walkway may not make much of a difference either, he says. Sangeeta Patil, widow of a local, Ramesh Patil, who was mowed down by a train on the bridge, is also not excited. "Instead of making the pathway, why don't they make a railway station between Vaitarna and Safale? Why don't they understand that we have to walk for kilometres to reach the station on the either side?" she asks. Till that happens, Sangeeta, a vegetable vendor, will have to do what she's been doing all along, carry her wares and walk the bridge. And once the pathway is built, she will use that.

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