Commuter anger rises in Mumbai as 10 people die everyday on city's trains

Commuter anger rises in Mumbai as 10 people die everyday on city's trains
In this photograph taken on April 7, 2014, Indian resident Dipti Lodaya (L) holds her son Dhawal's photo as her husband Mayur Lodaya speaks of the tragedy that has befallen their family at their home in Mumbai.

MUMBAI - Cricket-mad teenager Dhaval Lodaya was on his way to a temple when his Mumbai train derailed and he bled to death - becoming one of the ten people who die every day on the city's rail network.

Known as the lifeline of India's congested financial capital, the low-fare trains have become a dangerous gamble for the millions of commuters who use them daily, with 3,506 deaths recorded last year alone.

In a city that has grown around its rail system, built by the British 160 years ago, many today are killed crossing the tracks, some have heart attacks in the overcrowded carriages, or fall from doors of moving trains and hit trackside poles.

On journeys ferrying commuters from outlying suburbs to the business districts, scores are charred to death each year while travelling on coach roofs as high-voltage electricity courses through overhead wires, say activists.

So although 17-year-old Lodaya's death on March 20 was far from rare, it was a tipping point for some Mumbai residents who - spurred on by his family and friends - marched in their hundreds to nearby train stations in anger at the railway authorities.

"We lost the light of our family. We told the authorities that they had forced us to protest and they should remedy the situation," Lodaya's father told AFP at his modest family apartment in Mumbai, where the teenager's picture sits on a small television.

When Lodaya's train derailed north of the city, an ambulance took more than an hour to reach the spot and railway police failed to move the boy to safety, his father alleges. Rail officials told him traffic-clogged roads caused the delays.

A Facebook page titled Justice For Dhaval Lodaya, set up by friends to keep a tab on the promised investigation into his death, has received nearly 30,000 "likes" pledging support.

Despite the dangers facing passengers, a leading activist says lucrative returns from the Mumbai rail network, which carries 7.5 million passengers daily, offer little incentive for reform by the state-owned Indian Railways.

Mr Samir Zaveri, who became a rail safety campaigner after losing both his legs in a fall from a Mumbai train two decades ago, said corruption and mismanagement are main reasons for the current state of the rail system.

"Mumbai is the cash cow of Indian Railways. So even though the authorities may cry about the paucity of funds, the fact is that Mumbai is a lucrative posting" for Indian Railways officials, he said.

Mr Zaveri accused officials of bribing their way into posts in Mumbai and shaking down station vendors.

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