By Vijay Darda | 02-10-2017
If criminal cases can be filed against school directors for murder, why not against railway officials?
After three consecutive train accidents in Uttar Pradesh, stampede on the Elphinstone Road railway station foot-over-bridge (FOB) in Mumbai has rocked the nation. This incident has raised several questions. The biggest question is whether this incident is just an accident? Is this not clearly a case of manslaughter?
Several MPs alerted the railways twice in a year and wrote letters about Elphinstone Road railway station FOB. Many people too tried to draw attention of Indian Railways through social media that the condition of this FOB was horrible. It is so narrow and the crowd is so much that a major accident is waiting to happen, people pointed out. But the officials of the Indian Railways ignored this warning. The ministry of railways which brags about making available milk aboard the train over a tweet, turned a blind eye to this warning. The top railway officials sit in their posh office not too far from this FOB, but everyone ignored the warning. Now the ministry of railways is saying that tender has been issued to widen the bridge. So the question is whether the ministry of railways was waiting for the accident to happen? Did it need the manslaughter to happen to galvanize the railways to reconstruct or widen the FOB?
The point is against whom will the action be taken for this manslaughter? Will the case of murder be registered against the top railway officials? When a child was murdered in a Delhi school, a case was registered against the directors of the school who resided in Mumbai. If there is an accident in a factory then the case is registered against its owner. If the owners and directors are put in jail then the question that arises is why no case has been filed against the railway authorities so far?
Around 2.30 crore passengers travel every day through 8000 railway stations in the country. And if the top officials of the railways are so careless, it is clear that the lives of 2.30 crore passengers will always be in danger, which, in fact, already is. About four hundred rail accidents have occurred in the last three years and 185 of these accidents have been caused due to the negligence of railway employees and officials. When the accident involving Utkal Express occurred in Uttar Pradesh, only a few senior railway officials were transferred. No murder case was registered against them. Just imagine, if an officer is careless at one place, he will be equally careless irrespective of where he is sent or posted. All such officials should be put behind bars. Had this incident occurred in some foreign country, all the officials responsible would have been in jail by now. Here, the government washes its hands of its responsibility by paying compensation. Well, for your information, let me tell you that the bullet train we are bringing here has been running in Japan for more than 50 years but there has not been a single accident yet. We need to learn vigilance and security from Japan.
The fact is that our railways is not paying attention to security and vigilance. There are about 3,000 railway bridges in the country which need to be reconstructed immediately. Of the 1.21 lakh railway bridges in the country, 75% have outlived their utility. Most of them were built over 60 years back and many rail bridges are even over 100 years old. In 1998, the Hansraj Khanna Committee also said that a task force should be set up for railway bridges so that the bridges could be rebuilt within five years. It is more than 19 years but the report of the Hansraj Committee has not seen the light of the day. Many bridges have weakened over the years. The reality is that for many decades no initiative has been taken to restructure the railways. In 2015-16, a huge investment of `8.56 lakh crore was planned for five years. In the Rail Budget of 2017-18, creation of National Rail Safety Fund with a corpus of `1 lakh crore was proposed. However, the reality is that the investment which the railway needs is not available. There is a perpetual grouse that adequate funds are not available. In fact, we talk more and deliver less.
Imagine what would be the condition of the families of those killed on Elphinstone Road railway station FOB. Shraddha Varpe, a resident of Kalyan, was the sole support of her handicapped father. She lost her life in the stampede. Young Mayuresh used to go to office by motorcycle to avoid the crowded local trains. But to avoid rains, he took local train that day and died in the FOB stampede. He was the only bread earner for the family of five. There are several other similar heart-rending stories that have been haunting us since the day of stampede.
I firmly believe that the top officials of the Indian Railways are fully responsible for the calamity that has befallen these families. A case of manslaughter should be registered against them! Unless stringent action is taken against the officials of Indian Railways, such incidents will continue to happen. To be honest, once the railway authorities realise that they will end up in jail for negligence, many accidents will be curbed.
Before I conclude…
The Under-17 Football World Cup will be inaugurated in India this week. The competition is among 24 teams from around the world. The Indian team is being led by Manipur’s Amarjeet and the whole country has pinned its hopes on him. In recent times, the Indian youth is showing great interest in football and this is certainly a positive sign. I congratulate the Indian team and hope that it will win the glory and become the world champion!