Ambitious technology upgrade plan of Railways aimed at providing enhanced passenger safety takes a hit

NEW DELHI: An ambitious technology upgrade plan of the Indian Railways aimed at providing enhanced passenger safety is threatening to go off-track on account of continuing upheaval in the Indian Railways Project Management Unit (IRPMU) – the agency that has been implementing the European technology, Train Protection Warning Systems (TPWS), on locomotives to prevent head-on collisions.

The IRPMU was renamed in June last year and work on TPWS execution was passed on to zonal general managers.

“Recent administrative changes such as the renaming of the IRPMU have been done to “cover up” the irregularities”, the Bharatiya Railway Mazdoor Sangha – labour wing of the RSS’s Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangha – alleged in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 9.

BRMS employees have threatened an indefinite fast from April to protest “deliberate attempts by the Railways Ministry to misguide the PMO by “keeping wrong doings at the organization under wraps”.

Despite several telephone calls and messages, director general (signals and telecommunications) Akhil Agarwal remained unavailable for comments.

As reported in May, irregularities in the functioning of the IRPMU – rechristened the National Capital Region Project Unit (NCRPU) –came to light following the December 2014 decision of the German KFW bank to discontinue its Euro 82.08 million (INR 440 crore) loan for executing the critical safety works including modernization of Signaling and Telecommunications (S&T) systems on India’s busiest train route from Ghaziabad to Kanpur.

Launched in 2003, the projected was scheduled for completion in 2009, but only 69% of sanctioned works have been completed so far.

In its report of November 2015, the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) pointed to several transgressions such as poor progress of work, changes in contractual agreement and use of inferior material.

Surprisingly, the Railways – in its communication of 16 October 2016 – took the position that since the issue was being looked into by the C&AG, there was no need for an inquiry by either the Central Vigilance Commission or the Railway Vigilance.

“C&AG investigations are done with a focus on recommending corrective measures, while a probe into specific allegations of corrupt practices is done by the Railway Vigilance”, BRMS Delhi secretary Inderjeet Singh said.