32 passengers were killed after a coach of the Delhi-Chennai Tamil Nadu Express caught fire at Nellore in Andhra Pradesh. On Face the Nation, CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose asks a panel of experts - Are Railways becoming death traps? Sagarika Ghose tweets: 1765 dead in rail accidents in last 3 yrs.15000 people killed each yr crossing tracks.15 pc of world rail accidents in India. Shocking!
Sagarika, first of all my heart reaches out to the families who have lost their near and dear ones. Having said that, these are the symptoms of a cancer and that cancer is somewhere in the politics in the railways. It is high time that we stop playing politics with the railways and stop playing with people’s lives. At the end of the day who dies? It is the poorest of the poor. Rajdhani, Shatabdi are perhaps better taken care of because rich people travel in that. Until and unless you deal with safety, I am afraid these symptoms will carry on, accidents will happen, poor people will die, breaking news will take place, we all will come on the TV and nothing will change. I tried to do that, I tried with the experts of the country, they gave me a prescription, I wanted to follow that prescription and nothing else. Unless and until you organise the railways you cannot address the safety period. Railways is in a mess, total mess.
Well I can only tell you that when I was the minister, I had told the board that one major incident and you will not find me here. And they all knew my sensitivity. Sagarika we have lost sensitivity. Accidents happens, people die, compensation, life goes on as usual but people who have died there families will never forget this. So yes, heads have to roll. And it is time Prime Minister has to take a call as to what he has to do. Don’t play with the lives of the people. But in all cases it could have been any minister but still.
Well minister’s heads rolling is one thing but what I think is more important is a lot of the solution lie clear is one of implementing. That’s also the Karkotkar Committee talks about that the railways suffers implementation paralysis. For example if you take deaths on the Mumbai suburban tracks, there is no reason why we cannot have flyovers and pedestrian crossings at a very high frequency. Then a lot of the deaths happen in the night when people cross and the lights of the train blind them. Why can’t we have the suburban tracks system lit, after all if the highways can be lit this section be lit? So there are a lot of solutions that are possible. Take this fire accident, train safety system needs to come in place where If any such incident is detected the trains should stop. Then the recovery, you can save lives and reduced the damage if the people are able to get out of the coach quickly. I think our Indian railway coaches are not designed for easy, quick exit.
See, Raghuram very clearly said and if you look at the Karkotakr Committee report its last line says that the railways suffers from implementation bulk. And out of the all the reports none of the recommendations have been implemented.
It says reluctance of Indian railways to own these causalities which does not fall under the purview of train accidents but are accidents by count of train by no means can be accepted in no civilised society such massacre.
Look at today’s accident, it was a fire accident. Railway officials are not trained to take care of fire accidents. Number two, in fire accident, the injured cannot be taken care of in a normal hospital. There 25 injured, accident happened at 5 am, why by 7 am they could not be airlifted to Hyderabad or Chennai?
That’s one of the reason but I will not put all the blame on the politicians because the railways has the board and these people are operational. I think there is no safety culture in the Indian railways. The Kakotkar report talks about deaths of 16,000 employees in one year and 2700 injured, do you think an organisation which doesn’t even care about its own employees will care about the passengers? The point is there is no safety culture in the Indian railways. When Dinesh Trivedi was the railway minister he appointed an independent safety panel and when he was removed what did Mukul Roy do, just to spite his colleague he abolish the post of member safety and public-private partnership. So there is independent oversight, you find that there is commissioner safety which is nominal in the civil aviation industry which does after the investigation, there is no safety measure taken and this railway commissioner which is packed with officials.
Sagarika it is said day, all I said that if you do not want to raise the fare then let the prime minister, let the Parliament give the money. If you know that your system is rotten and in spite of that you let the passenger go then I think it negligence amounting to murder knowing fully well that the experts are the best in the country but they work only for the ministers. One minister says safety board, yes, another says no safety board, no, where is the loyalty? Loyalty is more to the minister rather than the railway. They come for two years and then they retire. Let me tell you Indian railway is best in the world, you have a technocrat, you have somebody at the top and give them full independence. Prime minister has to come in, now there is no escape because if a minister like me wanted to implement. Now, it took 4-5 months for expert like Kakotkar, Sridharan, Sam Pitroda and there is one more panellist there. They have worked had and they have given the prescription and they have told how to do it. When you tryto implement you are sacked.
Sagarika, railway is the locomotive of this country and the prime minister has washed off his hands from this and it is so vital to the economy of a country. in 1997, when there was an accident, the HRD Ministry, Nitish Kumar as the railway minister got the Vajpayee government to sanction Rs 17,000 crore for the safety. A lot of steps have been taken to ensure safety but that is not enough, though accident rate per million kilometre have come down but there should be zero tolerance. I have met official who have gone for a three week study to Japan and in 1960s the Japan train driver overshot a train signal and after that they had a device installed in the cabin which flashes the red signal, buzzer goes off alerts the driver. And still if the driver does not respond the automatic brakes are applied. In 1970s there was a collision and after that a button was installed in the cabin which enables the driver when it sees the train coming in the opposite direction he presses that button, all the train within half a kilometre region are immobilised. In Japan they do not recognise it as a human failure, if there is a failure it is the system failure.
Sagarika, there are two things, if you look at the Karkotakar committee recommendations, 50 per cent of the recommendations does not require any money. Number two, look at all the programs of the government, whenever the government wants the money for the programs, if railways have to run it has to run with safety. People get hurt in the accident not the railways. What is Rs five lakhs, it is not even six months salary of the railway man. Why shouldn’t the people dieing be paid the net value of the life lost.
In today’s modern world given the structure of the railways which is next to the Army, I mean we have the beast of the people in the railways, you need to modernise the railway because the our railway system has become obsolete. To modernise you need to follow the Japanese standard or the European standard. There hasn’t been a single death in railways in Japan for last 47 year. That is exactly what I said during my budget speech that these are the standards I want to reach out to and it is possible if you take away the politics.
That’s very obvious Sagarika.
There are two things that has to be done, number one, railway minister has to run railways only. Number two, what railway ministers traditionally has done to the governance, the railway official are the best in the country but they have simply not been able to function.
I am votary of that because I think Indian railways is like a big machinery with all these cadres and people with feelings for themselves accountable to hierarchy, but if you really want to make the railway accountable to the end user then public-private partnership is the structure. When we get these organisations and make them responsible for the people then we get a much better responsive organisation.