Otterman speaks... (2003-2007)
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Cycling, macintosh, natural history and life in Singapore - Archives

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Fri 14 Jul 2006

TODAYonline News Alert 14/07/2006 8:28 AM Singapore News

Category : world

"Mangled Metal, Burnt Bodies, Yet Mumbai Won" By Andy Mukherjee. Today online, 14 Jul 2006. Amid the chaos of the train blasts, the people took charge, organising recovery - NewsComment

"Ghastly as they are, the television images of the Mumbai blasts - twisted metal, dazed survivors and charred bodies flung about on railway tracks - don't alter the basic reality: The terrorists lost. Mumbai won.

The city's spirit of enterprise, the driving force behind much of India's commercial life, survived the eight explosions that ripped through packed commuter trains at the peak of the rush-hour evening traffic. Sure, there was chaos as city authorities, under-equipped and under-prepared, struggled with a calamity that left at least 186 dead and more than 700 injured in just 30 minutes. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

This, however, wasn't surprising. Mumbai suffers from fragmented leadership and no real civic accountability.

Bureaucrats with secure tenures run the show on behalf of the government of Maharashtra, the state of which Mumbai is the capital. The mayor of Mumbai, who presides over the meetings of the municipal corporation, isn't directly elected by the people of the city. Nor does he have any executive authority. Decisions concerning the city are effectively made by the various ministries of the Maharashtra government.

Complicating matters, the July 11 blasts occurred on trains and stations that are under the jurisdiction of the Railway Ministry, controlled by the federal government in New Delhi.

And yet, the real takeaway from those troubling images wasn't that a cohesive leadership was missing when it was needed most - but that the people were living up to their reputation for ingenuity.

Without a semblance of authority directing them, the people had, within minutes of the attack, mounted rescue operations.

One group, mostly the residents of shantytowns along the railway tracks, carried the dead and the injured out of the train carriages, using bed sheets as body bags and stretchers. Another group stopped taxis and auto-rickshaws and ordered them to take the survivors to hospital.

A third group was at the hospitals, administering all the first aid it could, before the doctors could take over.

And all of this happened as rain pounded down.

At one blast site, local rescue workers pressed a TV crew, which had arrived before the police, into helping victims. The filming had to wait.

In an eyewitness account to the BBC from one of the hospitals, Sunny Jain, a student, said it was taking time to organise medical help, not because of any lack of effort by the volunteers or the doctors, but because there weren't enough X-ray machines.

Wasn't it just last month that Reader's Digest judged Mumbai the rudest city in the world because shop assistants didn't thank customers and no one held doors open?

I wonder what the publication would have to say about the Mumbai residents who took food, water and their cellular phones to stranded commuters and queued up at night to donate blood after bloggers relayed appeals made by hospitals.

This wasn't the first time the people had rallied together. On July 26 last year, when the city was flooded after receiving its heaviest rainfall in a century, groups of young men physically lifted stalled cars and cleared up traffic.

The morning after the tragedy, the city made an even more determined effort at restoring normalcy.

The stock market traded as usual, with the benchmark Sensex index rising 3 per cent in response to a better-than-expected 50 per cent gain in profit at Infosys Technologies, India's No 2 exporter of computer software.

In a televised interview with Bloomberg News, Mr M Damodaran, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, complimented the financial capital for its ability to "bounce back".

Banks, markets and most offices opened for business. As did schools. The dabbawalas, who carry 100,000 homemade lunches for Mumbai's office-goers, displayed no let-up in their trademark efficiency. And many of those who were on the trains that were attacked showed up for work yesterday.

Some say it isn't healthy for a people to live so well with terror; their resilience only lets pressure off the government to make life safer. While that may have a kernel of truth, the task of keeping the authorities on their toes must ultimately fall on the city's business leaders, including its 13 Forbes magazine billionaires.

This group, which has a huge stake in making Mumbai safer and more liveable, has to lobby the politicians to effect fundamental changes in city management.

The common man of Mumbai has shown his mettle; it's now up to the elite.

The writer is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Would Singaporeans, faced with the same disaster, react as Mumbai did?
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TODAYonline, 14 Jul 2006

Posted at 4:37AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | , .