A train compartment catches fire, killing nearly 30 people. Only when the horror hits home, questions are raised: why don’t our trains have a fire alarm system or fire extinguishers?
A Chennai schoolgirl falls through a hole inside a bus and is crushed to death beneath the rear wheels. The bus had secured its fitness certificate only days earlier, evidently by bribing transport department inspectors. Again, the recriminations start a day later.
All these are manifestations of an ‘anything goes’ culture in our daily life, a failure to abide by rules, even if means putting human lives and limbs at risk. And a belated head-banging and expression of outrage when things go horribly wrong – as they inevitably will when an ‘anything goes’ culture goes just that bit too far.
Some of this can be traced to a culture of frugality – of cutting corners and making do with less-than-optimal solutions in the interests of saving rupees, annas and paise. Frugality, in and of itself, may not be bad, but the moment it makes a trade-off with public safety in the way that these two instances illustrate, it is no longer a virtue.
The school authorities who thought it fit to bribe transport inspectors to get their bus certified fit rather than carry out the repairs were evidently looking to cut costs. Of course, they were taking risks, but in their estimation the risk-reward equation was tolerable – until, of course, a child died.
In this case, the parents of the child have reason to be aggrieved at the loss. After all, when you send your child off to school in bus, you can’t go around inspecting the bus for road-worthiness.
But there are other instances where parents send their children off to school in overladen pedal-rickshaws or auto-rickshaws, again in the interest of frugality, without taking an element of ownership for the safety of their child. Most days, the child may come back safe: but even so, the child is being subjected to enormous risk on a daily basis, the extent of which hits home only in the event of a tragic accident.
Likewise, in the case of the burning train too, the accident was evidently the result of a laissez faire attitude on the part of officials to inspection rules that govern the fitness of train coaches. When routine inspections are reduced to a formality, passengers are subjected to a risk on a daily basis, even on days that the trains reach their destinations safe. Of course, these glaring lapses come to light only when a tragedy such as this unfolds.
But again, just the provision of fire extinguishers or warning systems on trains would have saved human lives. But evidently in the cold calculus of our railway officials, human lives are considerably cheaper than these fire control devices.
And, of course, since accountability of officials doesn’t run deep in our system, the ‘anything goes’ culture isn’t about to end anytime soon.