Derailments, stampedes and contaminated food, and yet all we are talking about is bullet trains
The Indian Railways has one of the highest incidences of accidents owing to material, equipment and human failures. It witnessed 3,546 rail track fractures and weld failures in 2016-17 alone.editorials Updated: Oct 03, 2017 11:28 IST
The Indian Railways’ catering wing, IRCTC, has delisted a juice brand after former rail minister Dinesh Trivedi complained he was served a “contaminated” lemon drink on-board the Kathgodam-Delhi Shatabdi last week. The incident comes soon after a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General on ‘Catering Services in Indian Railways revealed that poor quality food was being served to passengers and articles unsuitable for human consumption, contaminated foodstuff and packaged items whose shelf life had run out were being sold on stations. The flak from Mr Trivedi has added to the woes of the Indian Railways already facing criticism for incidents such as the stampede caused by the overcrowding of the overbridge near Mumbai’s Elphinstone Road Station in which 22 people died and a spate of derailments such as the accident near Khatauli, Uttar Pradesh, on August 19, which resulted in the death of 23 passengers.
Experts say the Indian Railways has one of the highest incidences of accidents owing to material, equipment and human failures. The railways witnessed 3,546 rail track fractures and weld failures in 2016-17 alone. The number of signalling equipment failures in the same period was 130,200. In 2012, the Centre had appointed Anil Kakodkar to head a panel which would examine the safety aspects of the Railways. Among its key recommendations was investing Rs 1 lakh crore over a five-year period and the creation of a statutory railway safety authority. The authority is yet to be created.
Notwithstanding the hype surrounding the high-speed rail project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, the government will be better advised to fix the crumbling rail infrastructure in the country. The system suffers from overloading of tracks and the staff seldom get the time needed for upkeep of infrastructure and repairing of tracks. In June, quoting a report by the NITI Aayog, minister of state for Railways Rajen Gohain told Parliament that 53% of India’s train accidents are due to derailments. Going beyond symbolism, the government needs to restore the people’s confidence in the country’s lifeline, which still carries more than 8.6 billion passengers every year. Its customers, who now pay flexible fares, need to be assured that once they board a train on the Indian Railways, not only will they be served safe and hygienic food, they’ll also reach their destination safely.