Dhamara Tragedy: Why did Rly not issue Caution Order/Speed Restriction in the section knowing Shravan Rush? Why to blame State Govt?

PATNA: It’s criminal to blame others when your own house is not properly set.  It’s absurd if you take up others for no fault of them, when your own face is carrying the image of a culprit.  Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, MOSR has disputed the number of pilgrims dead in the mind-numbing accident at Bihar’s Dhamara Ghat station on Monday; he has blatantly held the state government responsible for not alerting it to the size of pilgrims who may travel that day; and has announced that new platforms and foot over-bridges would be built and a better public address system put in place.  It looks safety is not necessarily a systemic issue for Railways but something it attends to only on a case-by-case basis at some particular “incident” and not “accident”.  If such incident / accidents were not to happen, the thought of safety would not arise!

This is a jaw-dropper for the nation. The question is “Why all these Passenger Amenities, only NOW?  Why not earlier?” It is easy to make mincemeat of his utterances because he also added that with the Centre-provided funds under the Prime Minister’s Grameen Sadak Yojana, Bihar could have built a road network instead of “where the railways is the only mode of transport”. In short, according to him, the Indian Railways knew the ‘Shravan rush’ in that particular station’s geography and was very well aware of the pilgrims rush, and was not culpable in the tragedy at all!…

Here’s a rebuttal:

One:  Railways has its own mechanism in place wherein from the Pointmen to Asst.Station Master, Station Master and other Safety, Traffic, Commercial, Mechanical, P-Way, Openline, Telecom and Signalling Staff each traveling and inspecting in that particular section almost on daily basis (ipso facto a practice in Railways since its existence), how come Mr.Choudhury claim that the accident happened due to sheer neglect of the State Government in not building the roads and in not alerting the Railways. Can anyone buy his comment? Never. He should have asked his own Zonal Railway and Divisional Railway authorities as to why a “Caution Order” and “Speed Restriction” not issued to Station Masters, Drivers and Guards (a normal practice in Railways during the engineering/signalling works etc) on that particular section while knowing that particular “Shravan rush” occasion falls once in an year and huge pilgrims gathers at that station?

Two:  it is not the number of dead that is the matter. Even if only one person were to die, it should be a matter of serious concern when that “only mode” is State-owned. A higher toll does not necessarily add to the gravity of poor management except that they add to the worsening statistics.

Three: being the “only mode” of transport, the transporter who is increasingly pretending to be a commercially-run corporate entity ought to know the demands on the system, especially since these are festivities on the calendar. These are not one-off events which can surprise the railways.

Four: whether the Bihar administration, held as a model of good governance, builds the roads or not is not the railway’s concern, unless, of course, unable to cope with the press of passengers, the ministry, of which he is the second nodal point after the full-fledged minister, had discussed this specific issue.

Five:, the railways, in business for 160 years almost to the day when the accident took place, cannot now suddenly spring up with the clarity that the place needed new platforms, foot over-bridges and a better public address system. His ministry even tried to pass it off as an ‘incident’, which meant the victims needn’t be compensated; only if it was an accident, there is a liability.

Six:  Dhamgara Ghat railway station, which is famous for the Katyayani temple, barely 400 meters away from the station, is a pathetic tale of neglect and apathy. Girded up by rivers, it is virtually an island, and rail is the only link to this place. On either side of this place that is between Koparia and Dhamara Ghat and again between Dhamara and Badlaghat, a stretch of 14 km, there is no road. The inhabitants trek the area through two abandoned bridges across rivers Bagmati and Kosi. “You cannot even afford a bicycle,” said one Rambabu Mishra. Often people take country boats to reach the station,” said Navin Kumar, who lives near the Katyayani temple.

Even to a lay ear, these utterances, surprising as they are, reveal how the transporter was passing the buck and shirking its responsibility. The points made by Chowdhury actually tantamount to an admission that the system over which he is a key leader has been lax in the very specific areas he touched upon.

It gives an impression that to Indian Railways, safety is not necessarily a systemic issue but something it attends to on a case-by-case basis. If accidents were not to happen – and I concede this is a macabre thought — the thought of safety would not arise. Otherwise, it would be happy to plod along with its unsafe bridges, unmanned railway crossings, poorly maintained coaches, et al as if all was well.

It is more than surprising that 90% Birdges on Indian Railways have ‘Caution Orders’ and ‘Speed Restrictions’ being issued since last 15 years, year on year.  Does this speak anything fair on Indian Railways?  

To a network which criss-crosses the country, even such simple matters as eliminating the death traps called unmanned level crossings is a slow work in progress. Recently, it was reported that the country has 12,582 of them (amounting 40 per cent of all crossings), and eliminating 10,797 of them by 2017 was an ‘ambitious’ target.

To add to this, we have the railway minister, Mallikarjun Kharge, saying that if the state governments shared the costs, by chipping in with 50 per cent of the estimates, his organisation would even build bridges. It is as if once the railways gets the right of way to plough through a region, everything else, including safety, becomes someone else’s responsibility!

Indian Railways, apart from doling out top posts allegedly for phenomenal bribes, has a bigger responsibility to the nation, of running a safe system. Had it been a private operator, would the government have been so lax about the standards of operations? Not at all, and the licence of such a private operator would have been cancelled by now and a criminal case would have been imposed on such aspiring party. Simply because Railways is a Central Government-owned does not mean that it can get away with anything at its whims and fancies.

Apart from financial implications, it is a mindset issue.

That’s why nation cannot buy Chowdhury’s absurd views.