While commiserations and reactions on devastating train derailments last fortnight are pouring in, grave concerns about the lacklustre rail infrastructure in India are being raised. Against this backdrop, it is ironic that the Central government talks about bullet trains, whereas the common man is not even entitled for a safe journey. The railroad infrastructure in India, known for accidents and disasters, has been under scrutiny for very long. The ill-maintained rail tracks that date back to the British Raj cuts a sorry figure of one of the largest train networks in the world. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for efforts to achieve a zero accident target, the lack of infrastructural funds to fine-tune the crumbling rail tracks remains a major challenge.
It is noteworthy that Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned as Rail Minister soon after an accident during his tenure, which he did not withdraw despite Pt. Nehru trying to persuade him not to. Here no one expects this to happen despite the unabated rate of accidents that has taken place during Suresh Prabhu’s tenure so far. In fact, when he offered his resignation, like Indian Railways’ ticket booking status, it went to “waiting”, instead of being “confirmed”.
Talking about Railway employees’ verve, were they given yearly ex-gratia payment last year of 89 days for the laxity of responsibility? It is sheer negligence on the part of the Railway staffs for such serious accidents on the Railway tracks. The Railway authorities cannot shirk their responsibilities in the matter.
It is lamentable that Railways being a vital network in India, free India has mostly neglected it. Even though the rail network is acknowledged to be the backbone of the country, the population per kilometre of track in India is only 63 per cent of China’s. Moreover, India has mostly neglected the quality of its tracks, updating the Raj-built network only infrequently. This means that Indian Railways can seem unnervingly unsafe, with accidents occurring with alarming regularity.
Although this time, Ministry of Railways took quick action in deposing off few
high rank officers, is that enough? Is that fault of several million people, who travel by train, even after paying high price for tickets? Any accident takes
place due to some mechanical fault or due to some technical reason/s is
understandable, because they can happen any time, any moment, but what
about the human induced accidents? The minister concerned should tone up the system with a strong hand, just suspending few or dismissing few won’t going to solve the problem.
In fact, India’s priorities are so misplaced that the Narendra Modi government has announced a fantastically expensive bullet train between Mumbai and Surat. It is estimated to cost nearly Rs 100,000 crore. The country’s middles classes have hailed this as a marker of development, the catch-all-term now in fashion. That development, as it is currently understood, focuses on an expensive train – for which the fare will be in the same category as an aeroplane ticket – but not the deaths of citizens is a truly worrying portent for India’s future.
Therefore, one would like to request the union rail minister to first work on the basics and then dream about running a bullet train in our country. I think, with such a poor and aging infrastructure, even semi-high speed trains are a big risk.
By Uday India Bureau