Railway Minister faces opposition fury in Rajya Sabha over Bihar accident

NEW DELHI: Railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge has to face a tough time in Rajya Sabha on Monday while making a statement on the Bihar train tragedy in which he claimed 28 people were killed.

Kharge had to apologize for his remark about Trinamool Congress member Derek O’Brien who wanted to know from the minister why the train mishap was mentioned as an “incident” in his statement and not “accident”.

The minister taunted O’Brien’s MBA degree, but quickly took back his remark after opposition from members. He clarified that such tragedies were termed incidents under railway rules and promised compensation to the victims.

A member said the compensation for victims of ‘incidents’ was less than in case of ‘accidents’ and it would not go on record while computing total number of train accidents.

Opposition members were not happy with Kharge’s announcement of Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of those killed and demanded that it be raised to at least Rs 10 lakh. Kharge defended the decision, arguing the same amount was provided as compensation in similar cases in the past.

Kharge had to face the ire of opposition MPs after he asked the members not to politicize the incident, arguing that the state government was taking action to maintain law and order. He was responding to BJP and RJD members’ query about the failure of railways and state government to manage the crowd as they were aware of the massive rush of pilgrims for ‘sawan mela’.

The minister was slammed by JD (U) members who said the railways was more culpable for the incident than the state government.

While the minister said an inquiry into the incident involving Saharsa-Patna Rajyarani Express was ordered, an official pointed out that prima facie it was a case of ‘trespass’ as devotees were illegally trying to cross the tracks. The express train was not supposed to stop at Dhamara Ghat station and was given clearance to pass through the middle track as the two other tracks were occupied by passenger trains at the halt.

After passing the signal, which was on a curve, the driver saw some people standing on the track and applied emergency brakes, but it was too late by then.

Kharge said he had spoken to Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on steps to maintain law and order to facilitate normal train operations.

“On humanitarian grounds an ex-gratia amount of Rs 5 lakh for those who lost their lives and Rs 1 lakh for those grievously injured has been announced,” he said.