Lack of safe bogies in Railways, do we value human life?
It is an unending tale of safety and security of the people being thrown out of the window. At least on the gigantic Indian Railways which is the backbone of the country's transportation system logging a mind boggling seven billion passenger trips annually.
The tragedy of it all is that at least 25,000 people are killed in railway accidents every year. These statistics are extremely scary to say the least. The question is do we as Indians really value and care about human life? It is even worse with the governments of the day both at the Centre and in the states. They summarily dole out Rs 2-3 lakhs compensation to the families of the dead and Rs 25,000 to RS 75,000 to the seriously injured. There ends the State's intervention and life for the bereaved is supposed to return to normality.
""If our lives mattered, the politicians might not be so callous in their approach,"" regretted a senior citizen who had retired as Railway Board member. And what is worse superannuated Railway Board officials concede that these aged bogies should not have been used to carry passengers posing an inherent threat to safety. In a majority of instances accidents occur due to the sheer negligence of the crumbling railway infrastructure requiring immediate upgradation. The faster and prestigious trains like the Rajdhanis and the Shatabdis use the safer LHB coaches manufactured in Kapurthala in Punjab and Rae Bareli, the parliamentary constituency of Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh.
For the teeming lower middle class and the poor travelling from one place to another is a necessity rather than any pleasure, the old coaches manufactured at the Integral Coach Factory in Perambur in Tamil Nadu are being used rather than phasing them out. Considering the acute shortage of the safe LHB coaches the unsafe passenger bogies continue to be used.
The implication of this ""chalta hai"" attitude is that the authorities are laying themselves bare to accidents. Why should'nt all those responsible for pursuing such a policy be charged with pre-meditated murder? The Indore-Patna express train accident is the biggest accident on the railways since 2010. How many more such heart rending and painful accidents will the nation have to endure before matters are put on an even keel.
Is it going to serve any purpose in baying for union Railway minister Suresh Prabhu's head by holding him responsible for this tragedy. A purposeful person and a doer he had underlined in his maiden speech while presenting the Railway Budget earlier this year that he is according the highest priority to safety as well as improving other aspects encompassing hygiene and sanitation on the IRs.
In the prevailing circumstances when the railways needs to get its act together, should introduction of bullet trains be accorded priority when the Railways safety record is taking a severe beating. Millions of people travelling by trains daily need to be assured of their safety. All the elements of safety -- integrity of the tracks, signalling, engines and coaches need to be checked rigorously. Invariably investigations even by independent bodies have found human error account for 70 per cent of serious rail accidents. This underlines the need for rigorous training and strict operational discipline.
In the present instance it needs to be determined if there were flaws like fracture of the track, whether the driver exceeded the specified speed limit as well as the flaws in the coach design leading to 146 fatalities and nearly twice that number were injured.
Various specialist committees have made recommendations about safety as well as restructuring the system along with undertaking major reforms encompassing the creation of a statutory safety authority, quick fire replacement of old coaches with the modern LHB design and revamped management which remains focussed on key train operations. In keeping with Prabhu's promise all the zonal railways are to be equipped with ultrasound flaw detection machines by March next year to test the quality of the tracks. Then, after an accident medical facilities are usually highly inadequate which in turn determines a victim's chance of survival. A significant number of accidents happen in rural areas where hospital facilities are lacking.
The Railways ministry should ensure that red tape should not come in the way of the victims getting the best aid and treatment. It is important that the rescue teams are well trained and equipped for the task. Already there have been three major derailments this year, two in UP and one in Madhya Pradesh. With less that 40 days to go before ushering in the new year, the country has already suffered 80 major railway accidents as against 69 last year in 2015.
Over half of them have been due to derailments which is a pointer to tracks not being well looked after or the coaches being old. In this particular instance the driver of the Indore-Patna express had complained about something being wrong with one of the bogies. He was advised to stop at Kanpur, a zonal centre, to get the problem fixed, according to reports. Alas that was not to be.
What is regrettable is the step motherly treatment being meted out to trains serving the country's hinterland. A retired Railway Board official has called for laying newew tracks all over the country. A mind boggling task in itself.
Making matters worse is that the Railways are in deep trouble financially. TMC's former Railways minister Dinesh Trivedi says in a newspaper article the railways is on the verge of bankruptcy and likely to report a net loss of Rs 25,000 crores. Under the circumstances it might have to borrow money to pay the salaries.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)"