Railways face Catch-22 situation post SC directive on ‘Doctor on Train’

New Delhi:  If the Indian Railways follows the recent Delhi High Court direction to the letter, passengers of long-distance trains who want urgent medical help won’t go untreated while travelling.

However, the catch lies in its implementation, considering the country’s struggle against acute shortage of doctors. India has only one doctor per 1,700 people. According to the Union Health Ministry figures, there are about 6-6.5 lakh doctors available in the country.

Acting on a PIL, a division bench—comprising Delhi High Court Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw—on January 22 directed the Ministry of Railways for employing one trained doctor along with the support staff, besides medicines and equipments necessary for life support, in each long-distance train.

The PIL brought to the court’s notice that there was no trained medical staff on the long-route trains to treat patients suffering from serious ailments like heart diseases, diabetes, asthma while travelling.

“At present, the Railways does not post doctors even on its premium Rajdhani Express trains, and passengers who need urgent medical help have to wait till the train reaches a station that has a railway doctor. At best, the ticket examiner or conductor can inform the guard, who passes on the message to the driver of the train,” the PIL filed by NGO Oro Foundation stated. Indian Railways is one of the world’s largest railway networks having 1,15,000 km of track over a route of 65,000 km and 7,500 stations.

The counsel appearing on behalf of the Railways contended that they will comply with the court’s order. This holds importance at a time when it has withdrawn doctors from Duronto trains last year due to technical constraints.

Earlier, replying to an RTI query by the NGO, the railways had admitted that there were 3,071 such trains in operation where even first-aid boxes were not sufficiently equipped and there was not even a single doctor or paramedic staff appointed on the long-distance trains.

The Oro Foundation filed a complaint with the Railways regarding the unavailability of adequate medical facilities and non-appointment of doctors in these trains. The Railways neither took any action on that complaint nor did it reply. The PIL cited a case wherein a passenger suffered a massive heart attack on Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani Express and no medical treatment could be provided to him and the train attendants were asking other passengers for help in panic.

The Railways has suggested the high court that they will highlight the concession scheme for doctors while booking of tickets. It offers 10 per cent concession to doctors on long-distance routes, who are ready to carry a specified medical kit and give a signed undertaking to help while travelling.