As Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu gets ready to present Rail Budget on Thursday, commuters and activists are hoping he pays attention to improve safety on the suburban network, where passenger deaths are a major concern.
On the Rail Budget eve, a group of transport activists on Wednesday highlighted the issue of alarming rise in number of passenger deaths, mostly due to crossing of tracks and falling off crowded trains, and demanded a separate zone for local services in Mumbai to address the woes of commuters.
Protesters under the banner of Observers Research Foundation (ORF) led by its chief Sudheendra Kulkarni and rail activist Sameer Jhaveri gathered at Azad Maidan in South Mumbai to raise a slew of issues.
Holding banners and posters, they appealed to the Minister to make necessary provisions to safeguard the lives of nearly eight million passengers travelling daily in suburban trains.
"An analysis of the budgetary allocations made to Mumbai over the last three years shows the suburban network is almost always ignored in the Railway Ministry's overall scheme of things. And if a few were announced, they were hardly implemented," said Kulkarni.
He demanded that the suburban services of Central and Western Railway be merged into a common zone. This unified zone should eventually be converted into an autonomous body which may be called the "Mumbai Metropolitan Region Railway Corporation" (MMRRC).
"Is the life of eight million Mumbaikars, who commute daily on local trains, so cheap that Railway Ministry in New Delhi continues to ignore the death of nearly 3,500 people in 'accidents' on tracks each year? Mumbai's suburban network needs immediate and sustainable solutions to stop these avoidable deaths," said Dhaval Desai, an associate of ORF.
Speaking on the occasion, the activists listed a number of demands. These included urgent and result-oriented measures to end all forms of trespassing by constructing subways and connecting all platforms, introducing standard practices in time of accidents, creating new suburban railway hubs and terminus to ensure better dispersal of commuter traffic.
They demanded fast-tracking of the work on extending Harbour Line (of Central Railway) to Borivali from Andheri.
Meanwhile, Prabhu on Wednesday said that the Rail Budget will cater to the needs of all "satisfactorily" as a lot of effort has gone into its preparation.
"The Rail Budget we have prepared is in the interest of the nation and railways," said Prabhu.
"We have tried to meet the needs of all satisfactorily. A lot of effort has gone into making the budget. We have taken the ground reality into consideration before finalising it," he said.
Efforts are on to generate revenue for railways through non-tariff sources like advertising, commercialisation of surplus land, official sources said, adding that a separate directorate is being planned for this purpose.