The country will remember for the next one hundred years the tragic train crash of June 02, this year at Bahanaga in Balasore district. Judging by the number of people killed in the accident, it is one of the biggest disasters of the Indian Railways. In fact, it is being investigated and debated whether it was a culpable homicide (unintentional murder) by the railway department or a premeditated conspired murder of passengers. The railway department’s slogan of “safety of passengers is our sacred duty” has come under question. The following are some of the points that are thought provoking and worthy of note in this issue.
Starting from local villagers to the MLAs of opposition political parties, everyone has been telling the media that the number of death toll of passengers travelling in the general compartments of the two high-speed trains is at least 1,000 or more. A large number of passengers in the general compartments of both the vehicles were killed. The railway authorities have never set forth any explanation till date as to why it always keeps the general coaches at the beginning and end of the train. However, in 1995, the Kalindi Express had a rail accident on 20 August 1995 when it collided with Purushottam Express near Firozabad on the Delhi–Kanpur section. This disaster is considered as the second most deadly rail accident in Indian rail history with 358 people deaths (official list). At that time also most of the passengers of the general compartment aboard the two trains were the most sufferers and many dead bodies were not also identified. Their families were denied compensation. The same thing has happened today also.
Nowadays, CCTVs, mobile tracking/ GPS tracking, image processing, etc. are being used to catch “criminals”. But, similar scientific processes are not being used to ensure early identification of dead bodies and immediate payment of compensation to the bereaved family members of those who die in train accidents. More passengers could have been identified by thorough viewing of the footage of the CCTV cameras of the original station and examining the belongings of the passengers found at the accident spot. However, without going to find out the root cause of the accident, and rather with a preoccupied belief from the beginning, the tragic train crash has been assumed to be a conspiracy of the railway staff . This approach of the authorities won’t be helpful for any possibility of economic upliftment of the family of the deceased passengers, nor will it provide any assurance of safe travel for railway passengers travelling regularly in different parts of the country. Burying the dismembered bodies in the accident has already destroyed the evidence of the deceased passenger. A DNA test of the dismembered bodies might have identified them and handed them over to the concerned family members. This action would have made the railway department more responsible and sensible.
In order to make use of rear seat belts mandatory immediately after former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry died in a car crash, the central government directed all car manufacturing companies to put in place necessary warning systems in the newly built cars. Before introduction of this rule, the system was applicable only for front seaters. The death of a single businessman in an accident could change the laws of the country. However, as per official figures, around 300 passengers have been killed in the Bahanaga accident, but we did not notice any change in any policy of the central government. In a democracy, everyone has an equal right to life, while the lives of a few worth millions of times more important than that of others .
Two flagship trains of the Indian Railways, Coromandel Express and Bangalore – Howrah Superfast Express, connect with the three major cities of the country (Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore). However, there was not a single VIP, VVIP, any high ranking railway official nor the rich player or rich artist travelling in both the trains on that fateful day . Had it been the case, it would have been published in news papers, flashed time and again in the electronic media. That follows, in the last few years, passenger trains have become exclusive carriers meant for migrant workers , students from lower middle-class families, artisans, ordinary patients and their relatives, pilgrims and daily travellers like office clerks and petty hawkers, etc. Thus, trains are meant for carrying these passengers just like ordinary luggage from one city to another and these common passengers have no power to influence the government system. The government also feel that the people of the country should be grateful to them for providing low-cost transportation facilities and thus should not demand the protection of their lives.
On June 7 , 2023, to get rid of rain six labourers had taken shelterunder a goods train parked on Jajpur Road station for past few days. They were chopped off by the wheels of that goods train when it suddenly rolled over. How could the concerned station in-charge not think that the empty coaches might roll over to another track which could even collide with a moving train? And how could he not arrange a chain, lock or iron breaker? From the day of the Bahanaga train accident till date Agartala Express, Falkanama Express and Vivekananda Express caught fire. All the incidents took place due to negligence on the part of railway officials, operational lapses and dearth of proper equipment. The higher officials should have been responsible for all these train accidents in the first place.
STATEMENT— 41(A) of the Annual Statistical Statement Report prepared by the Railway Board shows that in 2021-22, there were 8747 No. of failures of Railway equipment out of which the number of failure of signalling apparatus is 2,592. One of the reasons for this is that 14,850 posts in the signal section of the railway department of the country are lying vacant. Further, the English Daily “The Hidu” has reported on 9th January 2023 that according to the minister’s reply to a starred question in the Rajya Sabha, the Indian Railways has 3.12 lakh non-gazetted posts lying vacant across the country, spread across 18 zones, as on December 1, 2022. Official data reveals the staggering understaffing, which is putting a stress on the system and its current employees. The work pressure on railway department employees is high as they are running the work with less staff. Shouldn’t the higher officials of the railway department also be arrested for their negligence in filling up the posts of engineers and drivers? Nonetheless, on February 8 this year, due to the presence of mind of the pilot, the Sampark Kranti train survived the impending accident ( due to signal failure).
There is no discussion about the company that supplied signal equipment to the Railway. Board. Bahanaga station is located in Kharagpur-Bhadrak division of South Eastern Railways. The Railway. Board is not providing any information about who supplied the signalling equipment of this division. Isn’t it from the Tata company?
An analysis of the data available from the media and the Tata company’s website show that after the Railway Minister took charge in 2021, the Tata Company has received all the orders for the construction of Vande Bharat trains, construction of tracks, inter-locking arrangements, modernization of stations, etc. Some railway officials say the private company used to supply signal equipment that was not of superior quality. But that company has not been asked for an explanation on this issue till date.
According to data obtained through the Internet, between 2010 and 2019, the safest train system was in place in countries like Finland, Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, Russia, China, Greece, etc. They have focused on three main systems which the Indian Railways is not ready to accept.
a) They have a system of sensors in case of a fire breaks out in the train compartment. However, the Indian Railways is silent on this issue showing that it will cost Rs 35 lakh per train in India.
b) In those countries, there are railway track – sensor systems in place. If there is overloading, that system will stop the That has prevented the problem of derailment of goods trains. However, it is speculated that this is not being implemented here, thanks to the lobby of mining companies in India. The Shah Commission’s report has already pointed out that there is a lot of smuggling of minerals in goods trains.
c) Many countries of the world have adopted the “Japanese safe system” in railway However, in India, Tata company has provided signal equipment and computer programming to the railways, which is being proved time and again that it is not safe. Earlier, railway engineers used to monitor the working condition of machineries and equipment at every level. Now, after the private company supplies the machineries and equipment, it is not clear who is monitoring it and who is responsible. More and more trains are rolling on the track day by day, but neither they are being properly maintained nor monitored. There are several issues that can arise due to poor maintenance and monitoring such as accidents, delays, and breakdowns.
The railway department has handed over many tasks from manufacturing to service that provides convenience to passengers in the hands of own private companies. With this, the Indian Railways is the source of benefits of its privately managed companies. This tradition started during the Congress period. The Bharatiya Janata Party has already fallen into the same pit and is dragging the countrymen back into the same pit.
Indian Railways’ main slogan is “Lifeline of the Nation”. It is a symbol of development of the country. That Indian Railways has become the lifeline of poor Indians today. Without ensuring that railway systems meet the requirements for reliability, availability, maintainability, and safety, the Indian Railways put forth the useless arguments to cover up its weaknesses. Like many other ministries and departments of the country, the Railways organisation has become a money making machine for a few private companies and corporate houses instead of catering to the needs of the common people of the country. To materialise the slogan that ‘Indian Railways is in the service of the people’ in its real sense, it needs a radical change, more on safety of the passengers.
Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakhya Sangathan, Odisha
Update No. 28
Deba Ranjan, General Secretary
Golak Bihari Nath, President
Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakhya Sangathan, Odisha
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