NEW DELHI - Train drivers in India are up in arms after being told in new directives that they should remove dead bodies from the tracks to help cut down on delays, trade unions said on Wednesday.
Indian Railways issued a circular last month instructing assistant drivers and guards to "load the dead body on the brake van and remove it to the nearest gate lodge or the next station" to reduce disruption to running schedules.
"It is inherently illegal," complained Sanjay Kumar Padhi, one of the heads of the Indian Railways Loco Running Organisation, who read out the circular over the phone.
"The removal of dead bodies from the tracks by guards and drivers will amount to the removal of primary evidence from the scene of a crime," Padhi told AFP.
"The railways is clearly jumping the signal on this one," he added, explaining that it was up to the police to handle the bodies and investigate the cause of death.
The circular has since been withdrawn and sent back for "fresh deliberations", a senior railway manager said on condition of anonymity.
K. Parthasarthy, a driver from southern India, slammed the proposed change as impractical and likely to cause psychological problems for train crews.
"The dead bodies are often badly mutilated," he said. "Handling these bodies is not easy. Our blood pressure will go up. We will have bad dreams."
The Indian railways - still the main form of long-distance travel despite fierce competition from new airlines - run thousands of passenger and freight trains and carry millions of people daily.
But the system has a notoriously bad accident record, with the National Crime Records Bureau saying nearly 28,000 people died in rail-related incidents in 2010.
In a report on Tuesday, the Hindustan Times newspaper claimed the problem of dead bodies being found on the tracks had been growing alarmingly.
"Organised groups bring dead bodies from elsewhere and throw them on the tracks to claim compensation from the railways," an unnamed railways official was quoted as saying by the paper.