ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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When Safety Is Hanging Fire

How many more accidents and casualties will it take to turn around a callous Railways ministry?

The fire in the Tamil Nadu Express train at Nellore on 30 July which led to the gruesome death of 32 passengers could have been the result of an electrical short circuit in the compartment. But this was no isolated incident of a fire leading to a number of deaths. Safety in the Indian Railways seems to be compromised; the past few years have seen an unacceptably high number of collisions and derailments. Who else but the Ministry of Railways is to be blamed for these catastrophes.

According to information contained in a response to a recent Right to Information request, between January 2007 and September 2011 there were 738 railway accidents that took the lives of more than 2,000 people. The follow-up has usually been the establishment of safety and inquiry commissions which are tasked with preparing reports and recommendations, but there is very little follow-up either in terms of substantially larger budget allocations or the institution of appropriate safety devices in trains. For example, the much-talked-about anti-collision device is yet to be installed though more than 30 train collisions have taken place since 2008. We had in these columns commented earlier on the safety malaise in the railways (“Who Cares for the Indian Railways?”, 24 July 2010). Little changes despite tragedy after tragedy. As the then union minister for railways Dinesh Trivedi himself admitted in his budget speech earlier this year, an “implementation bug” continues to remain in the railways. Trivedi also noted that while the target for reducing the number of accidents per million train kilometres that was set in 2001 had been reached, these ­accidents continue to result in a very large number of casualties.

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