Thursday, July 21, 2011


Indian railways need to set their ‘safety’ priority right!

The Indian Railways is just not a mode of transport but is a legacy in itself. A mode of conveyance that carries more than 10 billion passengers every year, operates more than 15,000 trains every day, and covers almost four time distance between the earth and the moon and well, records in around 350 accidents every year — is a case study in itself.

In just last seven months, there had been more than six major railway accidents. Ironically, most of these accidents are due to human and administrative negligence. The incidence of railway accidents had seen a surge in recent times. In comparison to 2009-10 where around 200 people died, railway accidents last year (starting April) killed more than 300 people. This surge is despite the fact that Indian Railways drew more funds in the name of railway safety. In this financial year, the railway safety budget was increased by more than Rs 700 crore as compared to last year. Which indicates that the issue is just not about fund allocation but more about fund utilisation. Every year railway returns back a huge pie of their allocation back as unutilised funds — especially from the railway safety funds. What more, the musttouted corporate safety plan that was rolled ten years back is still lying dead in the files. As per various CAG reports, around 50 per cent of the total allocation remains unutilised. A back of envelope calculation indicates that no new fund was allocated to railway safety funds, but rather the cumulative old left over funds were merely reallocated. Basic safety measures like manning the unmanned crossing is still in pipeline. As of now, out of total 32,694 level crossings, a staggering 14,853 are unmanned i.e., 45 per cent of all crossing are unmanned. So much so that in spite of being India’s one of the largest employers, Indian railway has over 8000 posts vacant in the railway safety department, at administrative level, and a total of 90,000 security and safety related post (10,000 vacancy for Railway Protection Force).

Talking about railway infrastructure, the scenario here too looks quite bleak as most of the railways bridges and tracks are awaiting refurbishment. This is evident from the fact that most of the major accidents are due to derailment and bridge collapse. Take for instance Kadalundi train accident in 2001, Bhagalpur in 2006, Thane bridge collapse in 2009, Guwahati-Puri train accident in Assam, Kalka mail accident in UP — were all due to either of the reasons. More than 35,000 bridges are over 100 years old and are crying for urgent attention. Shamefully, bureaucratic hurdle and red-tapism have delayed the implementation of anti-collision device (ACD). ACD was developed by Konkan railway and have an accident prevention rate of 99.9 per cent. On the one hand where our railway ministry is still pondering over the implantation of such technology then on the other, countries like Australia, Israel and Egypt have already placed the order for same with Konkan railways.

All in all, every other railway minister don’t even bat their eyelid before celebrating their escalating revenue figures year after year. But then the same minister astutely, disguises the damages thus incurred behind those rosy figures. Even if a fraction of this revenue is redirected towards railway safety plans, the entire rail travel would reap positive economic externality. For records, railway accident cost Rs 100 crore every year to the nation. Such reluctance, from part of our ministers and bureaucrats, are nothing but a systematic economic sabotage! And the unfortunate bit is that this reluctance has cost too many innocent lives.


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