CRS Post: Duality of Command under two Ministries puts Safety of Railways at Stake

New Delhi: The Commission of Railway Safety (CRS), which is responsible for the safety and security of railway passengers works under the administrative control of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and not the Ministry of Railways, however majority of its functions point towards the railway system and its working. This duality in command is actually affecting safety standards in Indian Railways, which has been witnessing several accidents, the latest being the two incidents of fire on Dehradun Express and the Nanded Express within a month that killed several people.

19 incidents of train fire have taken place between 2008-09 and 2012-13. Out of these, eight incidents took place in 2012-13 alone. 121 train accidents took place in 2012-13, according to a report prepared by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways and tabled in Parliament last month.

The CRS does not have much say in the monitoring of railway safety. It just investigates accidents and inspects new lines before their commissioning. It does not have the power to carry out even an annual audit of Railways’ safety parameters, said a source.

A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, had in fact gone into details on the functioning of CRS and had mentioned that the duality of command was seriously affecting the safety standards in Railways. However, the Ministry of Railways never took the report seriously, said the source.

A High Level Safety Review Committee headed by Dr Anil Kakodkar had recommended the setting up of a statutory regulatory body, the Railway Safety Authority. It had also recommended a new post of Member (Safety and Research) in Railway Board, to act as a link among the Railway Board, Railway Safety Authority (RSA) and Railway Research and Development Council (RRDC) at the apex level. However, according to a ministry official, not much progress has been made in this regard.

The Parliamentary Committee said “involvement of two Ministries leads to ‘avoidable confusion’ and also makes it difficult to apportion the responsibilities due to duality of control and command in the functioning of CRS”. “It also leaves scope for conflict of interest for the Ministry of Railways,” it said.

While dwelling on the duality of command, the Committee pointed out that the existing system in which CRS has to function leaves much to be desired. “The CRS has to work under a lot of limitations and has to depend for so many things on the Ministry of Railways that it is not able to exercise, in actual practice, even those powers, that are available to it in Railways Act and the Rules made. Its autonomy, thus, is greatly impaired,” it said.

In 2005, a previous Committee had suggested that there should be standalone legislation for the Commission of Railway Safety. In fact, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had prepared a draft, “Commission of Railway Safety Bill”, but that did not find favour with the Ministry of Railways. The proposal was eventually dropped in 2010. The committee suggested that the issue of separate legislation should be discussed seriously, defining the role, powers and jurisdiction of CRS for ensuring its autonomy and effective functioning.