By Ankita Ghosh:
On 5th of August 2015, two passenger trains ran headlong into a very billowy Machak river, between Khirkiya and Bhirangi stations on Khandwa-Irasi sections, some 160 km from Bhopal, in Northern Madhya Pradesh. Kamayani express connecting Mumbai to Varanasi and Janta Express from Patna, bound for Mumbai hit the river only minutes after each other following a late-night derailment, killing 29 passengers, a number that is currently being debated. Railway officials report that 250 passengers have been rescued from the site of accident, while an enquiry has been set up and compensation announced, keeping the number of casualties conveniently guarded. Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu attributes complete responsibility of the accident to the wrath of nature that washed out the base-line of tracks making overhead engine contact come off. The opposition in the meantime seems to have forgotten their days in the treasury and has been making a lot of noise through protests and demands for resignation over social network.
Statistics suggest that an average of 100 railroad accidents take place in India annually inclusive of derailments, level-crossing accidents, fires in bogies and miscellaneous accidents with 15000 casualties in approximation. Section 124 of Railways Act 1989 states that railways are liable when there occurs, (a) either a collision between trains of which one is a train carrying passengers, (b) the derailment of or (c) other accident to a train or any part of a train carrying passengers. Statutory amount of compensation being INR 4 lakhs upon death remains tough to claim, considering the fact that the claimant has to prove that the deceased was not acting out of negligence.
Indian Railways, last-man-standing among state-sponsored services, generating annual revenue of close to 20 billion US Dollars recruits for the largest number of government offices in the country. Home to the fourth largest network of railway lines in the world, India has untapped opportunity available in this sector, but seems to be rewarding a Cabinet-rank ministry to an ineffective leadership. Rail travel that reduces cost of conveyance in comparison to road or air commute, reveals poor shape of overall infrastructure and hapless financial state according to the high-level safety review committee (2012). Government whip-cracking in the railways division has yielded nothing but disappointing revenue and an overwhelming number of train-accidents. Entire five-year-plans have failed to bring in infrastructure investment in this division and the only reason why Indian Railways haven’t totally succumbed is perhaps the lack of competition from the private sector. Terrible condition of manufacturing units have given way to dilapidated tracks, platforms and crumbling parts, that easily give away.
The railway budget 2015-16 has received mixed reaction on the proposed investment plan for the fiscal year. A grand total of INR 856020 crore includes INR 193000 crores for Network Expansion, INR 39000 crore for National Projects, INR 127000 crores towards Safety, INR 5000 crores for IT and Research and INR 12500 crores for passenger amenities among other expenditure. While the budget document has been clearly and comprehensively structured it remains ambiguous about any tangible plan of action. Certain areas of focus have shown temperament of reform like considerations on women’s safety, question of minimizing the lofty annual figures of rail accidents, fetching Minister Prabhu accolades within the party and among allies. However the budget fails to clearly spell out how the government plans to raise such enormous funds as needed to support said proposals. Passenger fares have yet again escaped escalation, a trend that has been going on for a decade yet a raise in freight charges has created a divisive opinion. In the light of an industrious Railway Budget it should be remembered that the railway remains one of the most fertile areas for exploitation and money-laundering. The multi-crore railgate scam that shook the backbone of the erstwhile government and a generally healthy trend of railway bribery, railway ticket frauds and such other should in all probability sound as a warning siren for the newly constituted government. The Ministry via the 2015 Railway budget highlights need for building partnerships, leveraging additional resources, revamping management and HR and still greater need for better governance and transparency.