Railway portfolio ‘a Political Tool’ often given as a Bribe to Allies by Mainline Parties

New Delhi: Nine deaths in Wednesday’s Bandra-Dehradun Express fire tragedy, just within one week of Bangalore-Nanded tragedy once again exposed the kind of mess that the Indian Railway system is in. There are various factors which have contributed to an absolutely-unsafe Rail system. The railway portfolio has become a political tool and has very often been given as a bribe to the allies. Further, there are also instances where the ministry is given to senior leaders when they are unable to become Chief Ministers of a state. The Railways has become a victim of politics and has been treated as a personal property.

The point in the making is that the portfolio should be with someone who understands the Railways and also one who cares. If political parties play dirty politics with the Railways then it is clear that they have no feelings for the people.  There is no improvement happening on safety and worse there is no money to run the system.  It is going the Air India way. The biggest worry is that there is a great deal of demoralisation that has set in among the employees.

The Railways clearly faces a huge loss on a daily basis and this has led to poor payment of salaries to the railways employees. It is very obvious that these people will get demoralised. Moreover, the fact that there is no money in the Railways has also led to safety measures being compromised.

“There is a huge exodus in the Railways too. They are not getting the best of the engineers due to which technical difficulties are not addressed. Moreover, the younger lot are leaving the Railways in search of better jobs or have been asking for transfers into other departments.

When this is the mindset and state of the department it is obvious that it would not function properly. This is such an important mode of transport for the common man. Those who die in rail accidents are always the poor and all they get is an ex gratia of Rs.5 lakh. Is the worth of a human life just Rs.5 lakh? Is it correct not to care about the safety and then equate the lives of people with money?

There are no easy solutions to the problem. But the most important way forward for those in power is to at least be concerned. There are many prescriptions that have been given, but what is the point if it is not followed.”

“The entire Railway Board is demoralised and witnessing a collapse. We need to act fast and the need of the hour is to have a national railway policy irrespective of which party is in power. You need a robust system and also railways cannot be used a personal & political property.

The time has come to look beyond politics where the Railways is concerned. The ministry is still a lucrative one and often it feels that there is more demand for this portfolio than the post of Prime Minister. It helps those who work on the Railways in their respective constituencies.

There are politicians who come up and tell the Railways Minister to focus on their constituencies and there is no end because each one appears to be bothered about their constituency. We need to look at it as a whole and start doing for others if this scenario has to improve. If no action is taken then it would go from bad to worse in the coming years.

Passenger Safety, Must be Topmost Railway Priority

That fires continue to occur in the railways raises serious questions over the national transporter’s preparedness. Nine people were killed early on Wednesday after a fire broke out in the Mumbai-Dehra Dun Express in Thane. In December last, an air-conditioned coach of the Bangalore-Nanded Express caught fire, killing 26 people. Though railways claim to have taken various measures to prevent fire in trains, recurrence of such mishaps is a matter of concern for the government.

In 2012, the railways had appointed a committee of safety under scientist Anil Kakodkar, which made several recommendations. Among these was the installation of a flame detection system as the smoke alarm system often proved ineffective. The panel said there should be hooters in the coach so that its sound could alert passengers in case of a fire and help them escape. It recommended that the railways should consider linking the hooters with the alarm chain so that the train could immediately be brought to a halt, besides calling for the transporter to set a standard to evacuate passengers from a coach. It gave the example of aviation safety standards, where the evacuation time of all passengers is 90 seconds in case of any emergency during take-off and landing.

In its report to Parliament in March 2013, the railways said it had set up fire safety audit teams, besides ensuring three tiers of protection in case of a short-circuit. It also claimed to have installed fire alarms, smoke detection systems in some rakes. But the latest incident has revealed that even basic measures were ignored. Survivors complained that the emergency windows were nonfunctional. While there are many other factors responsible for rail mishaps, it is unfortunate that no one in the Railway Board is exclusively in charge of passenger safety. It is time the government gave primacy to safety by restructuring the board.