From ferrying 400 passengers from Mumbai to Thane in the year 1853 to ferrying nearly 23 million people every day, the Indian railways has certainly travelled a long way. The Indian railways, is today the largest rail network in Asia and the world’s second-largest network operated under a single management.
It has 1,15,000 km of track length. It runs 12,617 trains connecting more than 7,172 stations.
Just looking at the sheer volume of people who use the rail services, one would assume that all major stations and trains would be equipped with proper medical aid facilities. Sadly, that is not the case, with most stations having no or only basic healthcare support.
Over the years, due to interventions of multiple courts and judgements, medical care centres for passengers were slowly set up by railways – usually as an afterthought to incidents in which travelers lost their lives.
In recent years, there has been a concerted effort by the Railways to improve the medical facilities in trains and stations.
In 2015, the railways launched a helpline number – 138 which passengers could call through their mobile phones in case of medical emergency when on-board a train. Passenger trains are now equipped with first aid boxes containing essential drugs and dressing materials, in addition to this, front line staff deployed on trains are being trained in rendering first aid. Train running rules have also been changed to facilitate trains to make unscheduled halts, if necessary, at the stations en route in case of emergencies.
Despite all these measures taken up by the railways, in September 2017, a 55-year-old woman traveling to Dhanbad from Jodhpur by train died, allegedly due to lack of timely medical intervention by the railways authorities. The Rajasthan High Court hearing this matter directed the Railways to provide a team of one medical officer, one nurse, and one attendant in all the long-distance trains to cater to medical needs of the passengers. The Centre filed an appeal against this order at the Supreme Court.
The centre’s submission was that it is not feasible to provide medical assistance on-board all trains and that a pilot project for providing the medical treatment to the passengers on moving trains, had failed.
The Supreme Court Bench comprising of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud has directed Railways to take the assistance of the doctors from AIIMS to explore the ways in which they can put in place the system in moving trains to provide the medical treatment to the travelers if they take ill. The Supreme Court has also made it mandatory for Railways to keep oxygen cylinders in all the trains to ensure that the life-saving gas can be provided to the travelers suffering from the respiratory problems in case of emergency.
Given that the Railways are our nation’s lifeline, one hopes that the travelers are provided with adequate life support while traveling. The state of our railways needs deep and far-reaching reforms, and we hope the government delivers the same.
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