The country witnessed one of the most terrible train accidents in Sainthia, West Bengal, this week. The accident occurred when the Uttar Banga Express rammed the Vananchal Express. But the fact that the accident occurred in Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee’s state itself shows her apathy towards Railways. Mamata Banerjee thus far appeared to be an inefficient Railway Minister anyway. She is wary only about the defamation of her Trinamool Congress and not about inefficient handling of the Railways. It is an escapist’s way of shirking responsibility. But then Mamata shirked the responsibility of Railways from the day one. This fudging can be gauged by the fact that in UPA-II cabinet, unlike other cabinet ministers who took the oath of their respective office in New Delhi, Mamata preferred to take oath in Kolkata, contrary to established norms. The Indian Railways has a network spread over 63,000 km and about 7,000 stations through the length and breadth of the country. It carries 12 million passengers daily. The Railway Minister is supposed to ensure smooth and safe journey but how will it happen when Mamata is enchanted greatly with the idea of nurturing her aspirations to flourish the influence of her party in West Bengal. In fact she got delusion of grandeur after her party did well in the general election last year and in civic body election recently. But if she cannot spare enough time for the world’s largest rail network, then how will she be able to supervise such a widespread network of tracks on a minute-by-minute basis? Ms. Banerjee must, therefore, choose either state politics or Railway Ministry. Her oblique hint of other causes leads to state politics. Then why should people of the country suffer? If she has other doubts, she must take remedial steps immediately. Someone of her party can join the ministry in her place. And she can ruthlessly wrestle with her political foes.
For, it cannot be gainsaid that the accident points to the failure of Mamata Banerjee as both Railway Minister and West Bengal politician. Her policies at the Centre and the State are taking their toll. It is a wonder that the Indian Railways are functioning. The responsibility and work ethics are way below the bottom line. Hence, the increasing number of train accidents, which is alarming. Mamata perhaps has the worst track record as Railway Minister as far as accidents are concerned. The accident, which claimed 67 lives, is worth pondering over. It is obvious that the phenomenal advance in modern technology has not led to the upgradation of safety to the desired extent. Had the engine been equipped with the anti-collision devices, the alarm would have been triggered and the driver warned in time. Had the driver still not responded, the device would have initiated the application of brakes. Now what is of utmost significance is the fact that, unlike in the past, the accident at Sainthia, whether it was due to human error, sabotage or political designs, should serve as an eye-opener. In fact, the government should not treat the Sainthia tragedy as just one more accident and close the issue after paying ex gratia to the families of the dead, and tendering an apology to the people. For the announcement of monetary compensation, the ordering of an inquiry and shedding of crocodile tears by those at the helm of affairs can do little to console those who lost their beloved ones in the accident.
What is more, it is quite perturbing and distressing to witness the frequent train accidents, which are symptoms of the rot within. Furthermore, myopic policies of successive Railway Ministers, who consider the Railways an instrument to increase the political mileage for their respective parties, and inefficient bureaucratic administration, are responsible for the dismal state of affairs, which directly compromises safety. No wonder, the trains in India are nothing more than match boxes on wheels. The quality has not improved in decades. We should strive to build better quality railways and use technology to coordinate routes better. These are needless deaths that happen only in India. Also, it is a matter of shame that nobody in authority has taken moral responsibility for the tragedy. Instead, it seems to have become just another issue for our political leaders to trade accusations.