Talk not about derailment of just one train, but of Indian Railways itself



Soroor Ahmed

On May 26, 2014 hours before Narendra Modi was to take oath as PM and later in the day appoint Sadanand Gowda as the railway minister, the Gorakhdham Express rammed into a stationary goods train in UP, killing about 45 passengers.

It could not get as much Press coverage because media was preoccupied in the high profile function at the Rashtrapati Bhawan late in the evening. Unfortunately it did not have time or space to follow up that tragedy.

Almost a month later on the wee hours of June 25, that is on the day the Modi government implemented 14.2 per cent hike in passengers’ fare––as well as 6.5 per cent on freight rate––New Delhi-Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express rolled down from the track 10 kilometres east of Chapra.

Similarly, a fortnight after the NDA came to power in India on April 4, 1998 Danapur-Howrah Express met with an accident near Bankaghat in Patna killing about a dozen. Nitish Kumar had then just become the railway minister for the first time.

The biggest irony is that today none else but Nitish Kumar, whom the BJP call as the de facto chief minister of Bihar, is accusing the saffron party government of the Centre of unnecessarily blaming the Maoists for the derailment. He accused the Indian Railways for not running a pilot engine ahead of Rajdhani when the Maoists had given the bandh call.

Perhaps Nitish failed to recall what he had said early on September 10, 2002 morning near Rafiganj in Aurangabad district. Immediately after visiting the site where Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani fell from bridge over river Dhabe he held the Maoists responsible for removing the fish-plates. He thus put the blame on the state government as law and order is the state subject. Perhaps he then failed to appreciate the fact that Maoists’ menace is not just law and order issue and both the Centre and the state government are equally responsible.

Today Nitish’s former friends in the BJP have turned the table on him. They accused the state government of doing nothing to fight the Maoists though till a year back they too were in power with Nitish. The same old friends-turned-rivals held him directly responsible for the failure to prevent blasts in Mahabodhi Temple and on Hunkar Rally day in Patna.

Blaming sabotage for the train accident is not something new. When a passenger train got derailed near Rewari (Haryana) on November 23, 1977 sabotage of the rail tracks was among the factors blamed for it. Twenty passengers were killed and 21 others seriously injured.

In Bihar the suspicion of sabotage was made when coaches of Danapur-Howrah Express fell into a small bridge on April 4, 1998. Stories were planted in the media and attempts were made to show as if somebody from the state was responsible for it. The reason was obviously political.

Till then Maoists were not blamed though they had targeted railway property and trains elsewhere in the country even before that incident.

Even when on August 2, 1999 Awadh Assam Mail and Brahmaputra Mail collided headed on killing over 400 passengers in Gaisal in West Bengal some foul play was initially blamed. But then the negligence was so criminal that Nitish resigned taking moral responsibility. But he soon returned to the Vajpayee cabinet after the October 1999 Lok Saba election.

The conspiracy angle emerged once again after Mamata Banerjee became the Railway Minister in 2009. She added one more angle to it. More than Maoists she saw Marxists involvement in all the horrific train mishaps––even the rear on collision at Santhia railway station in West Bengal between Uttarbanga Express and Vananchal Express killing about 80 passengers.

An assessment of the last 16 years would reveal that maximum number of major train accidents took place during the tenure of Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee.

Mamata’s record on this count is as bad. On Jan 2, 2010 five express trains were involved in three major accidents in UP killing about 20 passengers. The Railways were quick to put blame on fog––as if the trains are running in the Stone Age. What they never said is that the casualty was much less because these trains were running at slow speed because of the fog. In this age of technological revolution drivers are even armed with walkie-talkie. So just blaming them for overshooting the signals due to fog is not acceptable.

The need of the hour is to understand as to why more major accidents took place during the reign of particular railway ministers, when the railways have the same technology, personnel and infrastructure. Why after Nitish’s and Mamata’s departure from the Rail Bhawan the number of major accidents had declined. What is strange is that before becoming the CM of West Bengal Mamata was a bit soft towards the Maoists––as she had to fight the Left Front––yet it is difficult to fathom why the Naxalites went about indulging in sabotages, when she was the railway minister.

No doubt the Maoists might have been responsible for some incidents. But the problem with Nitish and Mmata is that they used to come to the conclusion of conspiracy even before actually reaching the accident site making the work of Commissioner Railway Safety irrelevant. When a minister do so he is in a way defending the Railway even before any inquiry is being made. This leads to indiscipline as those really involved in the dereliction of duty becomes aware that he or she would not be touched as the ultras have already been blamed.

The same blame-game has started again. Rajdhani’s accident might have the Maoists involvement, but what about Gorakhdham Express tragedy. Nobody is in the mood to talk about it as if those travelling on it were lesser mortals.

Derailment of trains or other accidents are unfortunate but somewhat inevitable. Efforts should be made to minimize it. But what is more tragic is that there is fear of Indian Railways getting derailed.

Today trains are in much worse condition than a few years back. Not only crimes have increased in many parts of the country, now nobody seems to be bothered about seven to eight hours delay in running. Nobody talks about checking the reservation mafia. Reserved tickets are not available on many routes even two months ahead.

Yet we talk of running Bullet trains and setting up tourist circuits.

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