People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 29

July 17, 2011




Deadly Spell of Indian Railways



THE Indian Railways seems to have cast a deadly spell on the Indian people. In fact, it is a deathly curse.  During these 21 months since the UPA-II government took office, 561 lives have been lost in train accidents. Additionally, 822 people have been seriously injured.  The last two accidents  that occurred within hours of each other, the derailment of the Howrah-Kalka Mail and later of the Guwahati-Puri Express have left at least 50 dead and more than 300 injured.  The tragedy is that these figures will, surely, rise further deepening human agony.  During the last four months, four major accidents have occurred. Apart from these two recent ones, on May 22, twenty people were killed when a Garib Rath Express rammed into a jeep at an unmanned railway crossing in Bihar’s Madhubani district.  For years, the railways had been assuring the country of eliminating unmanned railway crossings. Yet, on July 7 again, at an unmanned crossing in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanshi Ram Nagar, 38 people of a marriage party were killed. 


The reality is that since the UPA-II government was formed, the railway ministry has been languishing without a full time political leadership.  The union minister for railways was not only more pre-occupied with her political ambitions in West Bengal, but worse, mis-utilised the railway network and  its funds to advance the electoral campaign in the state. 


When the UPA-II government assumed office, the vacancies in safety related positions in the Indian Railways was a whopping 89,024.  The country was assured that all measures to improve railway safety will be undertaken.  Within a year, these vacancies had risen to over 1.04 lakh.  This was part of the nearly two lakh vacancies that existed then in the railways as a whole.  Worse is the fact that the crucial post of member (traffic) in the railway board has been vacant for more than a year.  Still worse is the fact that several posts of the general manager of zonal railways, critical in handling railway operations and overseeing safety parameters, are lying vacant.  The union railways minister had neither the time nor the inclination to correct such serious lapses.


The railways had set its own targets in a corporate safety plan (2003-2013) highlighting the neglect of passenger safety over the years. None of these targets have been met.  This, according to the media, has been pointed out by a CAG report which exposed the failure of the Indian Railways to meet the targets of modernising signaling equipment, installation of anti-collusion devices and filling up safety related vacancies.  The CAG report highlighted that in all of railway’s 16 zones, there was a shortage of safety staff.  Thus, neglecting the ministry’s own targets, the union minister went on an overdrive of ill-planned expansions increasing the number of trains, many times over, on the same tracks.  This publicity blitz was to leverage the Indian Railways for the electoral battle in West Bengal. 


The net casualty has been the safety in Indian Railways.  Innocent passengers by the hundreds are paying the price for such gross neglect and misuse of the railways to serve petty electoral agendas. 


Another aspect is also a cause of worry.  Reports suggest that the Guwahati-Puri Express derailed after a massive explosion near the historic town of Rangiya in Assam.  There are allegations that suspected militants may have triggered such an explosion.  Similar issues were raised in the accident of the Gyaneswari Express last year which killed nearly 150 people.  The then union minister for railways had alleged that this accident was a handiwork of the ultras.  Today, as the chief minister of West Bengal, the same person announces her government’s decision to release 46 such militants from jail in West Bengal! 


The Indian people cannot afford and, hence, should not permit such a cynical treatment of the Indian Railways.  The railway network is the lifeline for the people in our country.  If its safety is compromised in such a gross fashion, then this lifeline becomes seriously ruptured.  This UPA-II government must pull up its socks and entrust the Indian Railways to somebody who has the commitment and competence to deliver and not be put in charge of people who use the Indian Railways to serve their other political agendas. 


Finally, needless to say that these accidents must be thoroughly probed and the guilty identified in the case of a human error and a deterrent punishment must follow. Mere departmental enquiries will not do.  This must be done in the interest of the country and its people. 


(July 13, 2011)