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poor track records

soroor ahmed

ever since 1996 all of the country’s railways ministers have been either from bihar or west bengal. during this period these two states, along with jharkhand, which was a part of bihar till november 2000, and uttar pradesh, accounted for a majority of all train mishaps. most of the trains which met with disaster originated from howrah or new delhi. the doon express is the latest to join the long list after two of its air-conditioned coaches caught fire in jharkhand on november 22, killing at least seven.

be it the head-on collision between the brahmaputra mail and the awadh assam express at gaisal (august 2, 1999), the derailment of the rajdhani express near rafiganj (september 9, 2002), the jnaneswari express disaster in west midnapore (may 28, 2010), the collision between the uttarbanga express and the vananchal express at sainthia station (july 19, 2010), the howrah-kalka mail derailment (july 10, 2011) near fatehpur or the collision between the delhi-bound goa sampark kranti express and the mewar express (october 21, 2009) — all these tragedies occurred in the three states of west bengal, bihar and up. not to mention the five express trains involved in three different accidents in up on the same day, january 2, 2010. all were on their way to or coming from new delhi. although dense fog was blamed for these three incidents, there were fewer casualties because all five trains were running at low speed due to inclement weather and poor visibility.
human errors
true, the movement of express/mail as well as freight trains is too heavy in these densely populated and mineral-rich states. but this does not mean that trains do not run in rest of the country. then why is it the number of train disasters is less elsewhere? one can cite the example of the mangalore-mumbai matsyagandha express accident, which occurred on june 16, 2004. but one must keep in mind that it was a freak accident. it happened after a landslide caused a boulder to fall on the track in the difficult terrain of the konkan railway. one can cite the more recent example of the collision between two emu trains in vellore district on september 13, 2011, in which about a dozen passengers lost their lives.
the big question is why this lopsidedness in the choice of railways ministers over the last 15 years. for some time during the vajpayee era, while nitish kumar served as railways minister, the late digvijay singh, also from bihar, served as minister of state. incidentally, the danapur railway division of bihar had a rare distinction –– the hometowns as well as the parliamentary constituencies of both kumar and singh fell within it. it was not surprising that this division got projects worth about rs 1,500 crore in the railway budget of 2002. the total allocation for projects in bihar was rs 4,000 crore that year.
the situation in west bengal now is more or less similar. kumar and singh were from the same party–– janata dal (united). mamata banerjee, mukul roy (who served as minister of state for railways for a brief period) and dinesh trivedi are all from trinamul congress.
these states are affected by maoists yet human errors and mechanical failures account for most of the major tragedies. if the doon express fire can be attributed to a miscreant, the big question is what was the coach attendant doing? what about the regular incidents of fire in locomotives involving prestigious trains like rajdhani? only two days before the doon express fire, the driver of kalka mail detected smoke coming out from the engine of the train near dehri-on-sone in bihar. can one blame maoists even for such incidents?

(this article was carried by the telegraph, calcutta, in its edit page on november 28, 2011)






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