Could the Train Accident of the Indore-Patna Express be averted?
It could have been possible only if the recommendation of the 2012 report on Railway Safety would have been implemented. With E Sreedharan of Delhi Metro fame and eminent nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar on a panel examining railway safety, the report was a landmark one for Indian Railways.
To overhaul the largest and busiest railway network in the world is not child play even with the hundred year old infrastructure. And the suggestions of the panel were radical:
The overhauling cost would be up to Rs 1 lakh crore and it would take 5 years to implement and it would include no new trains, considerable fare hike and new railway cess.
This measure would result in a not-so-populist measure, no wonder each of the railway minister after minister put the report in the cold storage. The current minister Suresh Prabhu offered some hope when he announced in February 201 that he would implement it.
Let’s take a look at how the report was commissioned and what its key recommendations were:
- It was Trinamool Congress’s MP Dinesh Trivedi, who as Railway Minister in 2011, took the initiative and tasked a committee headed by Kakodkar to come up with ways to make railway accident-free.
- In February 2012, the committee gave its report and it was nothing short of shameful misconduct by previous governments, for their successive populist measures of not increasing the fares while increasing the strain on the network.
- The report said that the passengers were surviving on sheer luck and the network was on the brink of collapse.
- It was suggested to adopt an automatic signal system at the cost of Rs 20,000 crore, both manned and unmanned level crossings to be totally eliminated at a cost of Rs 50,000 crore and a switch over from the ICF design coaches to the much safer LHB design coaches costing Rs 10,000 crores and no new trains.
The result of this was that Trivedi was quite serious about executing it and went on to hike fares in his 2012-13 rail budgets. This invited the wrath of party supremo Mamata Banerjee and the tussle prompted Trivedi to resign a month later.
Mukul Roy took over the ministry in April and brushed the report under the carpet. He declared that anyone can create a committee and submit a report, but it is not sacrosanct and he rolled back the fare hike.
The successive Railway Ministers from the Congress party continued to ignore the recommendations made by the committee because it would benefit the Trinamool.
The report received a new lease on life when the new government took oath of office in May 2014 when the new minister promised to take it forward.
What has Suresh Prabhu done?
Suresh Prabhu’s comment would indicate that he is leaning towards implementing the decision due to the report, which was tabled, and is not the first or last minister to take safety as the key agenda.
He has made inroads in taking the initiative due to his willingness to go beyond populist measures. He changed the rules of the game by incorporating these measures in his railway budget and increasing fares and not incorporating even a single new train or a new railway line, emphasizing the need to fix the existing ones first.
In February he implemented a large part of the recommendations in the report, which two months later, he created a Rs 1 lakh crore safety fund named Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh for the purpose.
This bill, which he seems to have introduced has not got the recommendation of the Finance Ministry and has been a major roadblock. But, this is not the end, Prabhu has announced major hikes in passenger fares in premium trains that, expectedly, drew protests from all over.