Residents of Vangani, a distant suburb on Central Railway (CR) line and one of its oldest stations, are wondering if their little suburb registers on the Union railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal’s radar as he gives final touches to his budget.
After all like the 8,000 plus population here, there are many places where people are forced to cross tracks because there is no foot over bridge (FOB). Among those forced to risk their lives daily include nearly 400 visually challenged people.
Situated in Ambernath tehsil of Thane district, this small town lies on the Mumbai suburban rail network and is an hour and a half away by local train from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
Vangani is home to a close knit community of visually impaired who hawks items such as paper soap, key chains, locks with chains, card holders, toys etc. “We aren’t begging or being a burden to society but trying to work and make a living. Is it too much to expect some sensitivity in ensuring that we don’t lose our lives in the process?” asks Anita Shelke, 40. This childless widow sold trinkets on trains for a living till two years ago, when a train-hit made her lose her left hand. “Now I’m forced to live off charity,” she says.
“While railways keep launching high-decibel campaigns to curb jaywalking to prevent death and disabilities, the irony is that the visually impaired and non disabled people of Vangani are forced to cross tracks,” said Amol Lalzare, a community correspondent from Video Volunteers who has made a film on this issue.
Dr Atul Jaiswal, of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai who has been working with this community in Vangani wondered why authorities have ignored the demand for an FOB for two decades. “This shows how the government’s sensitivity in ad blitzkriegs around occasions like World Disability Day actually translates on the ground.”
Railway authorities recently met community representatives who suggested that Vangani be developed as a model-disabled friendly station for the entire suburban rail network in Mumbai. GS Banerjee, Additional GM, CR assured them that the Vangani FOB would be proposed in the new fiscal year. “We are recommending this as a priority in the budget and are positive that Rail Bhavan will consider it,” he said.
The community also wants a total ban on the entry of the “non-disabled” into the coaches reserved for those with disability and a stop to the harassment of vision impaired hawkers on trains by police.