Long wait for compensation

June 30, 2011

Train Accident Victim
Long wait for compensation
Wednesday, December 8, 2010. Sixteen-year-old Sharif boarded the Dhaka-bound Chattala Express from Bhairab station around 4:00pm.
A cosmetics vendor, he had taken the same train almost every day since he left Asharampur Primary School under Raipura Police Station of Narsingdi four and a half years ago.
Second among four brothers and a sister, Sharif grew up with trains. His father Abdul Awal, himself a cosmetics hawker, dragged him into the business as the family struggled with relentless poverty.
On that day, Sharif moved from compartment to compartment with his tray like all other days. He did not know it would be his last day as a vendor.
What happened next has changed his life for ever.
“I was with my friend Rajib in the foremost compartment,” said Sharif sitting in the family’s rickety shack in Asharampur village, about 80 kilometres northeast of the capital. “Suddenly, Rajib leaned out the window and told me that another train was heading towards us from the opposite direction.”
The next thing Sharif could recall was a bang. When he came to senses, he was lying at National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation (Nitor) with both his legs amputated.
The accident claimed 21 lives, including that of his friend Rajib, and injured more than 100 people.
Since then the entire family has been thrown into despair. Six months on, the Bangladesh Railway (BR) has not compensated a single victim of the fatal accident although an enquiry committee concluded that the collision happened due to drivers’ fault.
“We’ve become so poor buying medicine and trying to save our son that we now struggle to buy enough rice for the family,” his father Awal said.
Interestingly, nearly four months after the accident, Sharif received a letter from Abul Kashem, assistant chief commercial manager of BR in Chittagong, asking him to appear before a medical board on April 26.
The letter dated April 18 ironically brought further misery to the family.
“To take our crippled son to Chittagong I needed one more person to accompany us, and we were in no position to pay for the fares and other expenses of the trip.”
The father went to the local bazaar and begged for help. He collected Tk 2,400 from several people and went to Chittagong on April 25 taking with them another person to help on the way.
The following day, they arrived at the BR office around 10:30am and waited for over two hours before Sharif was examined by three “men”.
“After the checkup was complete at about 3:00pm they told us to go home. And we haven’t heard anything from anybody ever since,” tells Awal.
Abul Kashem, the BR official, told The Daily Star that every victim must undergo a medical examination by a BR-appointed medical team for compensation.
He said that the victims would be compensated as per the Railway Act of 1890 which allows Tk 10,000 for an A-category victim.
If someone dies or loses a limb or becomes paralysed, he falls under category-A, said Kashem terming the amount ridiculous. “Nobody has ever tried to amend this 120-year-old law and make it up-to-date.”
He added that there are cases where the government announced reasonable compensation for the victims following accidents, but nothing like that happened in case of the tragedy in Narsingdi.
As for Sharif, “He will qualify for Tk 10,000,” Kashem said.

-With The Daily Star input

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