The Bombay High Court (BHC) has directed the Central and Western Railways to upgrade their disaster management system and submit a comprehensive process for review by August 16. Responding to two Public Interest Litigations (PIL) demanding better medical facilities at railway stations, the HC directed the Railway authorities to “act on a war footing” as a delay of over 30 minutes to deliver medical services is unacceptable.
The petitioners’ lawyer told reporters that the “Railway Safety Board had directed all divisional railways, including the Metros in Delhi and Calcutta, to draft a disaster management plan, and regularly upgrade it” which clearly was disregarded. One counsel also said “having a plan” is not adequate and instead “mock drills” and awareness campaigns should be organized “to make passengers aware” to handle disasters. Another counsel pointed out that the Indian Railways does not comply with even the basic norms such as providing 2 stretchers per train.
In response to the lawsuits, the Railways submitted a plan prepared in 2004 which the HC rejected as inadequate and wanted a more comprehensive one. The judges were also concerned about the over-crowding of sub-urban trains and the Railway’s counsel informed the court that it was increasing the passenger capacity of train by both increasing the number of coaches and newer lines.
While the public in Mumbai pitched in to help at all levels to deal with the blasts and the Railways itself was operational in 12 hours, the Railways came in for sharp criticism for its inability to respond to humanitarian disaster. The court clearly told the Railways that depending on the public to pitch in is not the optimal disaster plan.