Pot Calling the Kettle Black?

Accidents happen all the time and are a combination of several factors. Yet, when it comes to fixing responsibility who is to blame?

This morning’s newspaper carried a story about a railway accident in which a woman lost her legs while trying to board a local train. Whenever Moneylifers read a story like this, they are reminded of Samir Zaveri, Mumbai’s hero. A man who stands the tallest of all... without legs!

Yet, an important, though unconfirmed, part of the story was that the woman was trying to board a running train. And herein lies the rub.

An accident is a combination of certain factors that, in isolation, would mean nothing and go unnoticed. But, when all the unpropitious stars are in alignment, or misalignment, tragedies occur. Who then is to blame? The moment something goes wrong, and if the person involved is dead, the usual PR responses are trotted out. Pilot’s mistake. Equipment malfunction. Human error. Sabotage.

This writer firmly believes in the adage that, if there is malady, there has to be a remedy. In the accident mentioned above, what would you decide if you were the judge?
Suppose the woman was about to board the train and it started. Would you try and call it her mistake? After all, there are no audible signals to indicate a start. All trains do not always halt for a specific period. Some platforms are so curved and the trains are so long that neither the guard nor the driver can see all the compartments. Travelling everyday and coming home safe is a gamble. Some win, some lose. It is a throw of the dice.

Unfortunately, people take their lives into their hands so many times a day. How would you decide cases like these? The courts, while sympathetic to cases of grave injury, do not pass orders without going into the merits of the case.

Let us, at this moment, digress a bit and consider the recent initiatives taken by the railways due to the efforts of activists and Moneylife. Ambulances have been kept ready at some stations. Most importantly, platforms have been raised. Yet a lot remains to be done.

Maybe the most important facet now facing us is the care that passengers themselves must take. There is no programme to teach them the basics. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that trying to board a moving train or bus is dangerous. It requires less grey matter to understand not to travel on train rooftops or on the links between bogies. If an accident were to take place in these circumstances, what would you say?

You be the judge.

Cases of gross negligence, like rooftop travel, can bring no relief. In fact, if the perpetrators survive, they can, and should, and are being punished. Would you grant relief to persons, or kin of those persons, who are involved in accidents while crossing railway tracks in spite of foot over bridges? Would you allow compensation to those persons involved in accidents, often fatal, that occur when they are busy talking on their cell phones or listening to the radio?

You be the judge.

There is a recent new, deadly trend. Footboard travellers block half the door, what they call the ‘right side’, forcing passengers getting on and off to use only half the available space. That means the passengers get only half the time to board or alight. Accidents are, therefore, bound to happen. Who would you hold responsible?

To begin with, both, the authorities for not implementing the rule against travelling on the footboard, even when there is room to move inside, and the foot-boarders, for endangering life. And above all, all of us for lacking basic civic sense.

The fault lies with both, the pot and the kettle. Both need a good scrubbing.

Bapoo Malcolm is a practising lawyer in Mumbai. Please email your comments to [email protected] or [email protected]

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