Mumbaikars lament the public transport death trap

With an empty monorail rake catching fire this week, prominent citizens talk about why Mumbai's public transport gets a raw deal.

Less than two months after the horrific stampede at Elphinstone Road railway station, Mumbai’s public transport system faced yet another crisis of sorts this week. As a monorail coach caught fire at the Mysore Colony station in Chembur on Thursday morning, commuters were left thanking their stars that the rake had been empty, and casualties were averted.

However, with pothole-laced roads that see accidents often, deaths on the railway track and buses that are bursting at the seams, why does the city’s public transport system get such a raw deal?

Even as New Delhi struggles with hazardous smog that’s engulfed the city, Mumbai seems to be dealing with a deadly issue of its own — the abject lack of safety on the public transport systems. The poor maintenance of everything from buses and local trains to roads and the monorail, life in Mumbai seems to be dirt-cheap.

Nandini SardesaiNandini Sardesai

Sighs sociologist and women’s rights activist Nandini Sardesai, “Nothing has changed on the ground level since the Elphinstone stampede in September. It’s really sad that the highest tax-paying city in India is subjected to such things, and no one seems to be bothered.

Concurs theatre actress Dolly Thakore, who says that we end up warring over the wrong issues instead. “It goes on to show the deterioration of the administration. People here are fighting over what you eat, and where you live, instead of graver issues of life and death. It’s a very sad state that the country is in right now,” she sighs.

Both Nandini and Dolly are of the view that citizens need to be involved more in the development of their metropolises, and that’s when they will begin to think that the country and city belongs to them. “I don’t think it’s up to the authority. The power has to be decentralised in the city. The BMC is not able to manage the situation — be it hawkers, potholes, or even the infrastructure. Everything is crumbling; it’s on a decline,” points out Nandini, adding that a lot more power needs to be vested with citizens’ groups.

“With decentralisation, the responsibility will not rest with just one organisation. This way, different bodies are aware of what’s happening in different parts of Mumbai,” suggests Nandini.


And while actress Renuka Shahane agrees with the idea that citizens need to be involved, she also laments the ‘chalta hai’ attitude. “People die and the next day we gather the pieces of our lives and go back to work,” she says sternly, “As citizens, we have to demand certain changes, and it’s not difficult.”

The monorail is a rather new mode of transport in Mumbai, as is the metro. And the fire incident has brought into focus the upcoming metro lines, thanks to which arterial roads in Mumbai are already blocked. “I’m a little worried as far as the metro is concerned. It’s all under reclaimed land, and you don’t know what the consequences of the construction are going to be,” a worried Nandini asks. “What happens to the underground trains during rains? Are the authorities prepared for that?”

Renuka concludes that while a large part of change can come from people in power, it’s the citizens who will need to go an extra mile. “It has to be done together. It’s ridiculous to say ‘Woh nahi kar raha toh hum kyun karen?’ We pay taxes and this is our right,” she asserts.

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