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Black hole of information

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Accidents do happen rather frequently on the Indian Railways, although yesterday’s “Kalka Mail tragedy was clearly the worst of the year. What is surprising is that every time this happens, news of passenger safety or deaths take so long to reach their families.

IE reports from Chandigarh:

The derailment of the Howrah-Kalka Mail that was scheduled to reach Chandigarh Railway Station on Monday morning had worried relatives of the passengers visiting the station today. A helpline was set up at the Chandigarh Railway Station that witnessed relatives of a few passengers making queries. There was little clarity till late evening about the casualties and the injured from the city or the region.

IE reports from Howrah:

Hours after Howrah – Delhi Kalka Mail ( 12311 Up) derailed at Malwan station between Fatehpur and Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, but there was hardly any information about the passengers at Howrah, New Delhi or Allahabad stations.

Relatives of the passengers who had boarded the ill-fated train made a beeline at the station counters but railway authorities had no answer to their queries.

Ram Kumar Nagar, who had seen off his brother-in-law and his wife at Howrah Station on Saturday night, returned to the station on Sunday afternoon after he learnt about the derailment. “They were seated on berth number 58 and 60 of S2 compartment. But I have no clue of their well being,” said an anxious Nagar, who has been running from one counter to another for information.

Abhijeet Banerjee, a resident of Shibpur in Howrah, came to know that his nephew was injured in the accident from the news channel. He rushed to Howrah station but the railway officials couldn’t give him any information. Phone lines are not working. I don’t know what am I supposed to do,” he added. His nephew too had boarded the S2 coach.

IE reports from New Delhi:

Biman Mandal and his friend waited impatiently at the New Delhi railway station for the special train to take them to the Howrah-New Delhi-Kalka Mail derailment site in Malwan, UP, on Sunday.

He has not heard any news of his sister and her son, who were travelling in the train. Mandal’s brother-in-law, a government employee, had already reached the spot, but could not trace his wife though his child was safe.

Why should families be treated in such a imperiously cavalier fashion? Procedures set in place during the raj must be changed, especially in the internet era.

  1. There is no accident information page on the Indian Railways website. There is a link to the reservation chart for the Guwahati-Puri Express, which also had an accident on the same day, but no indication on the status of the passengers. This is not acceptable.
  2. There must be a well-organized database-driven page for passenger status information in case of accidents. Online information of this kind can be easily linked to automated phone information systems; this needs to be done. These systems and displays should also be available widely in railway stations for those who have no access to the web or phones.
  3. As soon as an accident occurs, rescue trains should be able to access passenger lists. They must be tasked with rapidly producing and continuously updating online checklists of people found safe, injured or dead. This is the fastest way to create information about reserved passengers
  4. There is always a large number of unreserved passengers. For them, the primary source of information is the local police. The police surely compile lists of deaths and injuries. It must be made mandatory for them to share this information with the railways every couple of hours, so that the railways can publish it online.

One understands the need to cross-check information so that wrong information about safety or injury is not published. However, people must be treated with sympathy and dignity in their hour of grief.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

July 11, 2011 at 3:44 am

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