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Disaster-readiness prod to railways

Mumbai, July 19: In the aftermath of the July 11 serial blasts, Bombay High Court has asked Central and Western Railway to revamp their disaster management plan and submit a report on the comprehensive measures devised to meet medical emergencies.

Hearing a 2001 public interest litigation demanding faster medical aid at railway stations, a bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and N.J. Patil today directed the railway authorities to file a reply by August 16.

A Mumbai doctor, Sarosh Mehta, and social worker Bhavesh Mehta had filed two separate petitions in 2001 highlighting the delay in reaching medical assistance to those injured in railway accidents.

Sarosh’s lawyer Jamshed Mistry approached the court with the petition today in the wake of the July 11 terror attack. He pointed out that medical aid had failed to reach some victims more than 30 minutes after the explosions.

Mistry told the court that there was dire need for an emergency medical plan and a railway helpline number, which could activate all government agencies in assisting the injured when a tragedy of this magnitude happens.

He also pointed out that commuters transporting the injured was not an ideal scenario, and suggested that the railways form teams of paramedics to help the wounded within the crucial 60 minutes after a mishap.

The bench told the railway authorities to “act on a war footing”. The judges also observed that 30 minutes was too long a period for medical aid to reach an injured person and could result in fatalities.

The counsel for Western Railway, Suresh Kumar, submitted a disaster management plan prepared in 2004. But the judges directed the railways to revamp it.

The high court also expressed concern about the over-crowding of suburban trains and directed the railways to state the measures taken to resolve this problem.

The railway counsels informed the court that steps like laying additional lines and increasing passenger capacity by running 12-coach trains instead of nine-coach ones had been taken.

The court asked the authorities to submit detail replies on them in the next hearing.

“We also pointed out that 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. We suggested that having a plan was not enough, even mock drills should be conducted to make passengers aware of the dos and don’ts when a big mishap takes place,” Mistry told The Telegraph.

Bhavesh, who runs a medical helpline for railway accident victims, said: “The railways do not have adequate medical infrastructure to deal with minor accidents like passengers hitting railway poles. How can they deal with huge emergencies like serial explosions' The mandatory rule of keeping two stretchers per railway station for carrying accident victims is also not followed.”

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