Nation of Beancounters

Are the Railways faking the causes of deaths to avoid paying compensation?

Posted in Uncategorized by Navin Kumar on June 14, 2010

Whenever an “incident” – any accident resulting in someone getting injured or killed – occurs on Mumbai’s suburban railway system, the  station master must be immediately informed. He then prepares a memo about it, which he hands over to thee Government Railway Police, who then are in charge of getting the victim to a hospital.

In the memo, he makes a note of (among other things) the cause of the incident, which can includes “Falling off a running train”, “Trespassing” (i.e. getting hit by a train while crossing tracks), “Dash into the railway pole” (hit a pole while leaning out of train) etc. The cause is fairly important because the railways are obligated to provide compensation to those who are injured or the kin of those who are killed by accidents on railway property except in the case of incidents of trespassing. If you’re injured or killed while walking over railway lines, the railways aren’t obligated to provide you any compensation whatsoever. In other cases, compensation tops off at Rs. 4,00,000 in the case of death or serious disability.

Thus the railways have an incentive to misrepresent accidents as incidents of trespassing. Anecdotes that I hear from activists and GRP officials (no names) suggest that the station-master will frequently write the incident off as a trespassing event without even seeing the scene.

The questioned that popped into my head was (naturally): How frequently?

After digitizing and tabulating GRP data from the year 2002 to 2009, I drew up the table below.While the number of deaths and injuries are roughly the same year-to-year (the ration of deaths-to-injuries is 1.03) the composition of

Cause Deaths Injuries
Line Crossing 68% 26%
Fell in Gap 0% 2%
Fall from running train 16% 47%
Dash into railway pole 1% 4%
Others 15% 20%

deaths and injuries varies wildly. According to the data, 7 out of 10 deaths are caused by line crossing – but only a quarter of all injuries are. Only 16% of all deaths are due to people falling from a moving train as opposed to nearly half of all injuries!

There are three possible explanations for this:

The first is that incidents of line crossing are inherently deadlier than incidents where people fall from a moving train. This differential doesn’t arise doe to the initial impact: is there a substantial difference between being hit by the ground while traveling at speed X and between being hit by a train at speed X? It may arise the fact that a person might be

Fatalities Injuries Total Rate
Line Crossing 19822 7474 27296 73%
Fell in Gap 106 512 618 17%
Fall from running train 4641 13488 18129 26%
Dash into railway pole 291 1217 1508 19%
Others 4401 5741 10142 43%

sliced by an oncoming train, a risk absent in the case of a person who falls off a train if he doesn’t fall onto parallel tracks.

The second is that incidents of line crossing which result in an injury are less likely to be reported than ones where the victim dies: bystanders might rush you off to the hospitals themselves without waiting for the railways to do something. The second is very hard to believe. If you are a by-stander (or even victim) why would you be more likely to help someone who gets hit by a train vis-a-vis someone who falls off a train?

The third explanation is that Station Masters try to write off incidents as trespassing but are unable to do so if the victim is still alive and therefore can correct the false information. This – to me – seems to be the most credible reason behind the huge difference between the between the fatality rate for line crossing incidents (73%) and for incidents involving people falling off a train (26%), a 3X difference that – to – me seems to exceed any physical logic, although that may simply be a failure of imagination on my part.

Note: All data is culled from Government Railway Police data that was submitted to the Mumbai High Court. The data covers the years 2002-2009. The numbers in the second table represent the total number of deaths/injuries during this period.

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