On February 8 this year, Sampark Kranti Express would have collided with a goods train at Hosadurga Road station in Mysore division, causing a major accident much like the Balasore tragedy in Odisha. The disaster was averted because of the alertness of the loco pilot.
Pointing to “serious flaws in the system” linked to interlocking, which is being cited as the cause of the triple-train accident at Balasore, principal chief operations manager of South Western Railway, Hari Shankar Verma, wrote in his report: “If the signal maintenance system is not monitored and corrected immediately, then it would lead to such re-occurrence and serious accidents. It is high time that some serious work is done on this front to ensure that the precious lives and safety of travelling public and railway men are not put in (at) risk.”
Precious lives were lost on June 2. As many as 275 were killed and over 1,000 injured when two ill-fated passenger trains and one goods train fell prey to the electronic interlocking flaw.
The Congress on Sunday asked the Narendra Modi government what was done about the February 9 warning by the top official of South Western Railway that proved prophetic within months of a similar tragedy that was averted by an exceptional human intervention.
That was probably not the only problem in the management of the massive rail network that nowadays makes news only for Modi’s penchant for the shine and speed of the Vande Bharat Express. Congress spokespersons Pawan Khera and Shaktisinh Gohil pointed to several issues suggesting neglect of safety concerns and demanded that responsibility be fixed. The minimum that can be done, they said, was the dismissal of railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
Khera said at a news conference: “This is not a natural calamity. This is man-made devastation caused by incompetence, negligence, serious lapses in the system and a narcissistic sense of ‘know-all’ attitude of the government, clubbed with high decibel PR (public relations), which exposed the hollowness at every level of governance. They cited concerns raised by the parliamentary standing committee and the Comptroller & Auditor General of India and blamed the media for acting like a “kavach” (shield) for the Modi government which harmed the national interest.
Recalling how the parliamentary standing committee for transport slammed the Railway Board for not following safety procedures, Gohil, who is a member of the panel, said: “The Commission of Railway Safety (CRS) is under the administrative control of the civil aviation ministry to ensure its independence. The standing committee proposed that the CRS should be an autonomous body separate from both the railway and civil aviation ministries. But the Modi government was trying to curtail and usurp the powers of CRS.”
Pointing out the “serious disregard” that the Railway Board showed for CRS, the committee said that “only 8-10 per cent of accidents are inquired by CRS, while rest of the accidents are inquired by railways itself”.