In the wake of the Odisha rail tragedy, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on Sunday alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was busy flagging off trains while not paying attention to railway safety.
He called for fixing accountability of all posts from top to bottom to prevent such incidents in future.
In a series of tweets, Kharge posed questions to the Modi government and alleged that "PR gimmicks" have made the working system of the dispensation "hollow".
Noting that three lakh posts are vacant in Railways, he said posts at high levels whose recruitment is through the Prime Minister's Office are also lying vacant. He asked why these posts were not filled in the last nine years.
The Railway Board itself has recently admitted that long working hours of loco pilots due to acute shortage of manpower is the main reason for the increasing number of accidents, the Congress president said and asked why the posts were not filled up.
Kharge claimed that the Principal Chief Operating Manager of South Western Railway Zone sought repair of the signalling system on February 8, 2023, citing an incident in Mysuru in which two trains averted a collision. "Why did the Ministry of Railways not act on it," he asked.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee in its 323rd report criticised the Railways for the "disregard" shown by the Railway Board towards the recommendations of the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS), Kharge said in a series of tweets in Hindi.
It was said that CRS investigates only 8 per cent to 10 per cent of accidents. Then why was CRS not strengthened, he asked.
"According to the latest CAG audit report, almost seven out of 10 train accidents between 2017-18 and 2020-21 were due to train derailment. From 2017-21, there was zero testing of Rail and Weld (Track Maintenance) for safety in the East Coast Railway. Why was it ignored?" the Congress president asked.
"According to CAG, 79 per cent funding was reduced in Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) when Rs 20,000 crore was to be made available every year. Why has there been a huge decline in the amount of track renewal works?" the Congress chief said.
The train collision avoidance system developed by India's Research Designs and Standards Organization (RDSO) in 2011 was renamed by the Modi government as "Kavach" and was demonstrated by the railway minister himself in March 2022, he said and asked why it has been implemented only on 4 per cent routes till now.
"Mr Modi, you are busy flagging off trains that have been turned white every day but do not pay any attention to rail safety," he said in an apparent reference to Vande Bharat trains.
Accountability of posts from top to bottom has to be fixed so that such accidents can be prevented. Only then will the victims of this tragedy get justice, Kharge said.
Meanwhile, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra called for the resignation of Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
"More than 24 hours have passed since the horrific train accident in Balasore, Odisha. Shouldn't the accountability of the people sitting at top positions be fixed on human and moral grounds?" Priyanka Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi.
Who is responsible for ignoring the warnings and suggestions of experts, the parliamentary committee and CAG report, she asked.
"Whose responsibility will be fixed for the vacant posts in the Railways and lack of funds in important sectors?" Priyanka Gandhi asked.
"Following the ethical path of Lal Bahadur Shastri ji, Nitish Kumar ji, Madhav Rao Scindia ji, shouldn't the railway minister resign?" she said.
The crash involving Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express and Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, which were carrying around 2,500 passengers, and a goods train occurred around 7 pm on Friday near the Bahanaga Bazar station in Balasore.
At least 288 people were dead and over 1,100 injured in the accident, the worst rail accident in India in nearly three decades.
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