‘Empty safety claims, red flags ignored’: Mallikarjun Kharge in letter to PM Modi on Odisha train crash

Jun 05, 2023 03:19 PM IST

In his letter to Modi, Kharge hit out at the Railway minister for seeking a CBI probe, saying the agency is meant to investigate crimes, not railway accidents.

As the ruling BJP and the opposition continued to trade barbs over the triple train collision in Odisha’s Balasore, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on Monday wrote a scathing letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The letter highlighted 10 points that urged the government to bring out the ‘real reason’ behind the accident. He alleged that the ‘empty safety claims’ of railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw were now ‘exposed’.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge.(ANI)
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge.(ANI)

Read: What is the electronic interlocking system that led to Odisha train accident?

The Rajya Sabha MP slammed Vaishnaw for involving CBI, which he claimed lacked the technical expertise in railway safety, signalling, and maintenance practices, to probe a train accident. "The CBI is meant to investigate crimes, not railway accidents. The CBI, or any other law enforcement agency, cannot fix accountability for technical, institutional and political failures," he argued.

Kharge compared the incident to 2016 when the then railways minister asked the National Investigation Agency to investigate the derailment of a train in Kanpur in which 150 people were killed. “The nation is still in the dark – who is responsible for 150 avoidable deaths?” he asked.

The Congress leader also pointed out that nearly 3 lakh posts were lying vacant in Indian Railways. “Vacant posts pose a threat to the assured jobs of people who belong to SC / ST / OBC and EWS,” he stated.

Kharge wondered how the railway ministry ignored a letter written by the principal chief operations manager of South Western Railway in February highlighting ‘signal failure’ with the Sampark Kranti Express. He cited the Parliamentary Standing Committee's 323rd report which criticised the railways for the “disregard” shown by the railway board towards the recommendations of the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS).

Referring to last year’s audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) which found that nearly three in four “consequential train accidents” between 2017-18 and 2020-21 were caused by derailments, Kharge asked why these ‘grave red flags’ were disregarded.

In the four-page letter, the former railways minister also demanded to know the reason for merging the Budget for Indian Railways with the Union Budget in 2017-18 and asked, “Has this not adversely affected the autonomy and decision-making capacity of Indian Railways?”

Kharge alleged that the railways were being given step-motherly treatment and ‘consistently flawed decision-making has made train travel unsafe.

Read: 'Signal for mainline...': TMC leader shares ‘audio’ on Odisha train crash

The former leader of opposition in RS also asserted that the Odisha crash was an eye-opener and that there is ‘serious concern’ among passengers about the deterioration in safety. He concluded by noting that priority should be accorded to installation of mandatory safety standards and equipment across railway routes.

The crash involving Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express and Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, which were carrying around 2,500 passengers, and a goods train on Friday has left 275 people dead and over 1,100 injured.

(With inputs from PTI)

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