NEW DELHI : Mounting pressure on the Centre over the Odisha train tragedy that claimed 275 lives, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on Monday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that roping of another agency without expertise shows that the government has no intent to address systematic safety malaise.
His remarks came a day after Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said that the Railway Board has recommended for a CBI probe to probe the deadly accident that occurred on June 2 in Balasore district.
In his letter to Modi, the Congress leader said that all the empty safety claims of the Railway Minister have now been exposed and there is serious concern among the common passengers about this deterioration in safety.
Kharge said that the devastating train accident in Balasore has shocked the nation and the country stands united in this hour of grief, however the loss of so many precious lives has shaken the conscience of every Indian.
“The loss of these lives is irreparable and no amount of monetary compensation or words of condolence can make up for this grave tragedy. But I say with remorse that instead of focusing on strengthening the railways at the basic level only superficial touch up is being done to stay in news.
“Instead of making the railways more effective, more advanced, and more efficient, it is instead being meted out with step-motherly treatment,” Kharge said.
He also alleged that flawed decision making has made travelling by rail unsafe and has in turn compounded the problems of our people.
“The statements so far and the roping in of yet another agency without the required expertise, remind us of 2016 (Patna-Indore Express accident). They show that your government has no intent to address the systemic safety malaise, but is instead finding diversionary tactics to derail any attempts to fix accountability,” he alleged.
“The nation still remembers the 2016 derailment in Kanpur, where 150 people lost their lives. The Railway Minister asked the NIA to investigate. Subsequently, you yourself (Modi) claimed in an election rally in 2017 that there was a ‘conspiracy’. The nation was assured that strictest punishment would be meted out. However, in 2018, the NIA closed the investigation and refused to file a chargesheet. The nation is still in the dark — who is responsible for 150 avoidable deaths?” he asked.
Kharge said that the train accident in Odisha has been an “eye opener for all of us”.
“All the empty safety claims of the Railway Minister have now been exposed. There is serious concern among the common passengers about this deterioration in safety. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the government to ascertain and bring to light the real reasons that caused this grave accident.”
He said that the most crucial step is to prioritise installation of mandatory safety standards and equipment across railway routes to ensure safety of our passengers and no recurrence of an accident like the one at Balasore.
He also pointed out several lapses on railways part for the detoriating safety standards citing CAG audit report, Parliamentary Panel report and vacancies in the railways.
He also questioned the government for merging the Budget for Indian Railways with the Union Budget in 2017-18, and said has this not adversely affected the autonomy and decision making capacity of Indian Railways.
Firing salvos at the government, he said: “Was this done to undermine the autonomy of Railways to push reckless privatisation? Even though privatisation of Railways was repeatedly opposed during Parliamentary proceedings, but all concerns have been ignored by bringing trains to stations under the ambit of brazen privatisation.
“It’s apparent that the government’s arbitrary decision making including the National Rail Plan for up to 2050 without any consultation or detailed discussion is aimed at exploiting the railways and making it an easy target and fodder for private companies.”
He also questioned the Railways’ decision to withdraw concessions that were being given to the elderly, children and women during the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, the people in charge — your goodself and Railway Minister Ashwani Vaishnav — do not want to admit that there are problems. The Railway Minister claims to have already found a root cause, but yet has requested the CBI to investigate.
“The CBI is meant to investigate crimes, not railway accidents. The CBI, or any other law enforcement agency, cannot fix accountability for technical, institutional and political failures. In addition, they lack the technical expertise in railway safety, signalling, and maintenance practices,” the Congress chief added.
The massive June 2 accident involved the Coromandel Express, SMVP-Howrah Superfast Express and a stationary goods train in Odisha’s Bahanaga railway station.
At least 21 coaches of the two express trains derailed.
On Sunday, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and several others demanded Vaishnaw’s resignation. — IANS