The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mamata demands CBI probe

Calcutta, Sept. 12: Mamata Banerjee today demanded a CBI inquiry into the Rajdhani Express derailment in view of the “conflicting opinions being cited at the highest level” about its actual cause.

“Different factors are being cited at different levels as the cause of the accident. The railway administration has also failed to reveal the necessary information about the number of casualties and show due promptness in undertaking rescue and relief work. The railway administration appears nervous in the aftermath of the mishap. The CBI should look into all these aspects and bring out the truth,” she said.

Mamata also sought “immediate removal of the railway board chairman” but stopped short of asking for railway minister Nitish Kumar’s resignation.

The former railway minister expressed doubts about the efficacy of routine departmental inquiries.

“I had ordered two separate probes into the train accident at Ambala in which 40 people died and received conflicting reports. I found that retired officials from the civil aviation department headed the probe bodies and submitted reports that sought to shield guilty railway officials. I had sent a strong note to the then civil aviation minister, Sharad Yadav, against this practice,” she said.

Mamata was critical of the railway board chairman. “He should have been at the accident site to supervise rescue and relief operations. Instead of doing so, he paid a token visit to Rafiganj and rushed back to Delhi. This kind of official should not be allowed to continue in office. During my tenure I had made the railway board chairman overall in-charge of railway safety,” she said.

Mamata also expressed doubts about the list of passengers and casualty figures revealed by the railway administration. Apart from 512 confirmed ticket-holders and 44 railway staff in the pantry car, she said, as many as 197 persons were on the RAC and the waiting lists. “I have heard that many bodies have been disposed of at the accident site and quite a few passengers are missing,” she added.

The former minister iterated that she had always attributed top priority to passengers’ safety during her tenure. She referred to her letter to the Prime Minister on August 21, stating that “safety of the railway system and security of its users must remain the highest priority at least for one more decade.”

“Unfortunately, the latest move of the railways (creation of new zones) is exactly in the opposite direction which is inevitably going to seriously compromise railway’s safety preparedness,” the letter had said.

Mamata had an informal discussion with Sam Pitroda, communications expert and chairman of World Tel, on the Rajdhani derailment when he called on her at home this afternoon.

Pitroda said it was possible to reduce the number of train accidents with the help of modern technology. “We cannot avert accidents all the time, but their number can be brought down,” he said.

Pitroda, who headed the Rail-Tel Corporation formed by Mamata, said he had completed preliminary work on the optic fibre project undertaken to enhance the railway’s income and strengthen its communication network. “But nothing has come of it after she left the Cabinet,” he said.

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