Bombay HC suggests ways to cut Overcrowding, seeks Casualty figures

Can’t Mumbaikars be disciplined to lessen overcrowding in trains? Bombay High Court asks railways to experiment

Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Wednesday asked the Railways to furnish a list of the number of people who die everyday after falling from overcrowded suburban trains. Hearing a PIL seeking reservation of seats in local trains for senior citizens, a division bench of Justice Naresh Patil and Justice V L Achliya asked the Railways to implement measures to reduce overcrowding.

The court was informed that though a compartment has a capacity of 86 commuters, there are over 500 persons in each coach during peak hours. The judges suggested that authorities could coordinate and work towards implementing staggered work hours for staff, especially in government offices. “Why does it have to be 9am and 5pm? Can some of the departments start work at 11am? Can some offices work on weekends and have holidays on weekdays?” asked the judges. “It shouldn’t be so that people have to use might and force to be able to enter trains during peak hours. Everyone should feel the comfort; there should be relief,” they said.

Can overcrowding in Mumbai suburban trains be reduced by disciplining citizens? Will this problem be solved if a reputed management institute does a detailed study? These are the questions the Bombay high court posed to the railways on Wednesday and directed it to experiment how proper crowd management can be done to ensure that citizens travel easily during peak hours. The court also asked if the crowd could be disciplined, by posting guards who will only allow a specific number of commuters to get into trains. Additional solicitor-general Anil Singh said, “Even if trains are late by a few minutes there are problems. In Mumbai, it would be next to impossible to restrict entry as every passenger wants to get inside the train.” The court asked if double decker trains could be deployed on suburban routes.

“Can the crowd be disciplined? For example, at one station you allow entry of a certain number of passengers only… will this work?” the court asked. Additional solicitor general Anil Singh replied, “In Mumbai, it’s next to impossible. Every passenger standing on the platform wants to enter the train which comes before him to reach his/her office on time.”

The bench then suggested change in office timings, asking whether the 9am to 5pm routine can be done away with. “What if some department begins work after 11am? Can some office work on weekdays and have holiday on weekends? The Dadar market is closed on Mondays. Can similar options be worked out? Would an integrated study by the state, railways, police and other partners (ie private sector) help ease overcrowding?” asked justice Patil.

The court also suggested that the railways consider having one coach reserved for senior citizens. Around 38,000 senior citizens travel daily on suburban trains. The railways has, after court orders, reserved 14 seats in a compartment for the elderly.

Advocate Suresh Kumar informed the court, “Awareness among travellers will be created to ensure that senior citizens are allowed to sit on the seats reserved for them. As earlier only a small area was reserved for the disabled but over time, after nine-coach trains gave way to 12-coach ones, the reservation increased. The same can be done for senior citizens once we get 15-coach trains.”

The bench, however, going back to its original issue of overcrowding, said, “During peak hours, can a senior citizen enter the compartment? If not, then how can s/he even be able to reach to his/her seat?”

“Have you tried sideway seating, like in Metro coaches? It allows more passengers to stand. Don’t be afraid to experiment because you might fail,” the judges added.

The court has given the railways time till June 30 to get back to it on the suggestions made.

The bench gave these ideas while hearing a public interest litigation after the court had taken suo moto cognisance of a letter written by a senior citizen, AB Thakkar, in 2009. Thakkar had said entering a jam-packed train during peak hours was a nightmarish experience for the elderly.

Around 4,000 people die every year on Central Railway, while around 3,500 perish on the Western Railway. Central Railway runs 1,600 services daily.

The PIL had claimed over 38,000 senior citizens travel daily on suburban trains. The railways said it had increased seats reserved for senior citizens from seven, to 14. The court asked the railways to consider if one compartment could be reserved for senior citizens in each train. “During peak hours it is impossible to get into a compartment, let alone being able to reach a reserved seat,” the court observed. “Awareness programmes should be conducted among passengers so that they don’t occupy seats reserved for senior citizens,” added the HC. The court has scheduled the next hearing of the case on June 30.