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Mamata’s safety record: Absent

Even as the Railways face criticism for lack of safety and security, Mamata Banerjee’s absence of almost a month from office has held up a critical proposal to find a fix to these problems. Srinand Jha reports. Safety on hold

delhi Updated: Jun 01, 2010 01:50 IST
Srinand Jha

Mamata Banerjee is likely to join back work as Union Minister for Railways on Tuesday, ending her longest-ever absence from office.

In her absence, the Railways saw a major incident in West Bengal, which cost the lives of 148 people. Two weeks before that, a stampede in New Delhi station took two lives.

Even as the Railways face criticism for lack of safety and security, Banerjee’s absence of almost a month from office has held up a critical proposal to find a fix to these problems.

Recommending more teeth for the Railway Protection Force (RPF), the T.R. Baalu-headed parliamentary standing committee had asked the Railways to forward a revised draft of the Railway Property (Unlawful Possession) Amendment Bill.

Over the last two months, Banerjee has not had the time to scrutinise the draft — which is pending at her desk.

Another critical issue is the continuing delays in filling up safety-related posts. As many as 1,99,494 railway posts are currently vacant, with an estimated 40 per cent of these being safety-related posts, the All India Railway Men Federations said. That comes to as many as 80,000 posts lying unfilled.

Similarly, a draft of the new catering policy awaits the minister’s clearance, even as Banerjee’s initiatives aiming
at improving passenger amenities have not taken off. There are many more files that are lying in wait for the minister’s attention — figures vary from a few hundred to a thousand.

With Banerjee away for such a long time, rooms in the corridor where her office is located have remained locked and the notice board at the entrance of Rail Bhawan has displayed the same ‘thought of the day’ for the past several weeks.

Officials though say this is of little consequence. “The ministry runs on auto-pilot; the minister does not need to be physically present,” one said.