Post Elphinstone Stampede, Can We Trust Railways With Our Lives?
“No other organisation in the world would’ve ignored all these warnings as callously as our Indian Railways.”
No other railway accident would have been as much forewarned as the Elphinstone- Parel foot-over-bridge accident on 29 September.
No other organisation in the world would have ignored all these warnings as callously as our Indian Railways.
Two Shiv Sena MPs, Rahul Shewale and Arvind Sawant, had written to the Railway Ministry demanding immediate widening of the very same foot-over-bridge, that is utilised by hundreds of commuters, in 2015 and in 2016. Former Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had sanctioned a wider foot-over-bridge at Elphinstone and Rs 11.86 crore was allotted for the project in the 2016-17 budget, but the project was never implemented.
Rohit Taru tweeted on 17 November 2016, “Horrible condition of FOB at Parel, request corrective action or soon it will lead to tragic incident [sic]”.
Chandan KK, on 28 July 2016, pointed out the same issue in his tweet.
Subhash Gupta, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Railway Pravasi Parishad (All India Railway Commuters' Council) had warned the Divisional Railway Manager about the foot-over-bridge and staircase barely ten days ago.
What’s more, minutes before the accident, Roads of Mumbai, tweeted a video of rain pouring through the leaky roof on the steps of the same foot-over-bridge making it slippery.
Pending Projects, Lack of Funds
Former Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda, in his 2014 rail budget speech, had said that in the last 30 years, 676 projects, worth Rs 1,57,883 crore were sanctioned, but only 317 could be completed. The rest of the 359 projects will now require as much as Rs 1,82,000 crore.
He had also pointed that only one out of 99 new railway lines sanctioned in the last ten years had been completed.
According to Sam Pitroda’s committee on modernisation of Indian Railways, at least Rs five lakh crore will be required to modernise the Railways.
Current Railway Minister Piyush Goyal must analyse Gowda’s statement.
On 4 May 2013, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal’s nephew, Vijay Singla, was arrested for demanding a bribe of Rs 10 crores from Mahesh Kumar, a member of the Indian Railway Board and for accepting an advance of Rs 90 lakhs. Goyal must launch a proper investigation into the matter.
Safety Funds Misused
The Safety Fund created by Nitish Kumar was misused. The funds were utilised to purchase rolling stock and gauge conversion while it should have been used on signal improvement, maintenance and technology upgradation.
A number of distressed bridges, old tracks, out-of-date signalling system, narrow foot-over-bridges and other safety enhancement devices are crying for replacement. The Passenger Amenities Committee, headed by H Raja, inspected the Tiruchirappalli Junction in Tamil Nadu on 28 September, but the committee was not shown the alcohol breath analyser meant to check whether the engine drivers were drunk. The Railways personnel can, in that sense, hoodwink any number of committees.
Besides, around 40 percent of the accidents are caused by human errors. There is a need to bring structural changes in the railways and its recruitment and promotion policies. Master Circular 37 issued by the railways says if no one clears the promotion exams, then choose the best among the ones who failed and promote them.
While people who scored 60 or 80 percent are appointed to some posts, people with 7 or 8 percent are appointed to other posts in the same category.
Resistance to Implement Reforms
In the Elphinstone tragedy case, the Railway Protection Force and Railway Police were nowhere to be seen till 25 people died and their bodies were being carried by fellow passengers.
Heads must roll for their failure in crowd control and relief work.
From 19 to 29 August, there have been seven derailments. The railway bureaucracy refuses to implement any changes. The apathy of the railways is more than evident since these accidents seemed to have no impact on them. That explains why there were another eight derailments from 2 to 8 September.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the action taken on its recommendations says (SCR 188 2013-14) that less than 40 percent of the money allotted for safety had been utilised by the Railways in the last two years!
What Should Piyush Goyal Do?
The Commission of Railway Safety must be manned by outsiders. The administrative control by the Civil Aviation Ministry dilutes its objectivity as this commission is manned by fiercely loyal railway deputationists.
Weeding out corruption will proportionately improve accountability. He must follow-up on several safety projects sanctioned in the budgets of the last ten years.
Safety Fund must be well-utilised for safety measures.
Canada’s Railway Safety Management System Regulations provides for whistle blowing on safety concerns along with the Safe and Accountable Rail Act that ensures accountability.
The Railway Board must be restructured to include financial experts, industrialists and other safety engineers instead of being manned by Railway employees.
Operating Ratio (operating expenses as a percentage of revenue) is not an old concept, as Suresh Prabhu had remarked and 96 percent of Operating Ratio is a shame. Staff cost eats up around 53 percent and it needs to be brought down to at least 40 percent.
The 17 Indian Railway zones must be restricted to six and each must be converted into a corporation with its own board as suggested. Only then can the Railways restore its lost credibility.
(The writer is Secretary, Consumer Protection Council, Tamil Nadu. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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