For the best experience, open
on your mobile browser or Download our App.

Table Train Accident Probe Findings in Parliament, Says Financial Accountability Network

The collective pointed out that "the government's fixation on flashy projects like the Vande Bharat Express seem to be eating into fundamental safety concerns," adding, "The needs of the majority of passengers, particularly those traveling in passenger and unreserved compartment trains who cannot afford the high tariffs of these trains, have been increasingly ignored."
The site of the Kanchanjunga Express collision. Photo: Samvu Nath

New Delhi: In the wake of the recent Kanchanjunga Express train accident near Rangapani station in West Bengal, a collective called Financial Accountability Network has demanded that “not only this accident but also the series of accidents in recent times” should be investigated in a fair and transparent manner and the probe findings should be presented in parliament.

Underlining that this is the second time within a span of one year that a catastrophic train accident has claimed lives under the watch of railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, the Financial Accountability Network wrote, “The accident involved the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, the Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, and a stationary goods train. The initial impact of the Coromandel Express with the goods train, followed by the Yashwantpur-Howrah Express slamming into derailed coaches, exposed egregious failures in railway operations and safety protocols. Investigations after the accident revealed that an undetected fault in the wiring of a location box near Bahanaga Bazaar Railway Station had lingered for five years. The Commission of Rail Safety (CRS) report laid the blame squarely on the S&T Department and let the government slide through the cracks once again.”

“But if we look deeper, the government in such accidents is more culpable than meets the eye. There is an urgent need to address 10,000 kilometers of tracks requiring immediate attention, along with the annual renewal of 4,500 kilometers of tracks. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found a staggering shortfall of Rs 103,395 crore needed for track renewal. By the end of the fiscal year 2020-21, the railway system needed to replace aging assets worth Rs 94,873 crore from the Depreciation Reserve Fund. Specifically, around 60% of these funds, or Rs 58,459 crore, were designated for the renewal of railway tracks. However, the CAG report revealed that only a paltry Rs 671.92 crore, or 0.7% of the allocated funds, was actually utilised for this critical purpose,” the collected added, in the press statement.

Also read: Kanchanjunga Express Tragedy: Railways Focus on Deceased Driver, Workers Point to Systemic Failures

Further, quoting the December 2022 CAG report, the collective has highlighted that the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) — a special fund created by the Narendra Modi government in 2017 to enhance railway safety — had its resources diverted to trivial expenses such as foot massagers, crockery, and furniture. Alarmingly, only a minuscule portion of the funds earmarked for track renewal was used as intended.

The Financial Accountability Network said, “In the aftermath of the Kanchanjunga Express calamity, the government has offered compensation of 10 lakh for the families of the deceased, 2.5 lakh for the seriously injured, and 50,000 for those with minor injuries. But such promises do nothing in terms of the structural concerns that are behind the neglect of priorities in the Railways. Such ex-post compensation, while necessary, when considered along with the conscious neglect of safety and reliability related investments (especially in signaling and in track modernisation) implies that the railways have been trading lives for money “saved”, which is entirely unethical.”

The collective pointed out that “the government’s fixation on flashy projects like the Vande Bharat Express seem to be eating into fundamental safety concerns,” adding, “The needs of the majority of passengers, particularly those traveling in passenger and unreserved compartment trains who cannot afford the high tariffs of these trains, have been increasingly ignored. When we look at the frequent videos these days of people being forced to travel like livestock stacked inside the train toilets and vestibules, we should yet again remind ourselves that it is the outcome of conscious decisions of the government.”

Notably, the Financial Accountability Network underlined that between 2012 and 2022 the seats/berths in the general section came down from 50% to 43%, even non-AC Sleeper sections seats/berths have come down from 36% to 33%. “While AC coaches have increased significantly from 15% to 24%. Railways are replacing affordable sleeper coaches with more expensive AC counterparts on faster trains that cost over twice as much as the original second-class tickets,” the collective added.

With respect to punctuality, the collective noted that the CAG has observed a decrease in the punctuality of mail and express trains, dropping from 79% in 2012-’13 to 69.23% in 2018-’19.

Further, the Financial Accountability Network wrote: “In a recent report by The Times of India, it was highlighted that the average speed of passenger trains in India has decreased by over 5 km per hour compared to the previous year. Similarly, for freight trains, there has been a decline in average speed by nearly 6 km per hour. These significant developments get shrouded by the fanfare around selfie booths with the PM. As per response to an RTI, it has come to the fore that, in the Central Railway Zone, these selfie booths in railway stations have been set up on platforms, costing Rs 6.25 lakhs each.”

Also read: Trains, Accidents and the ‘Railway Lunatic’

Underlining that Kavach safety system has not been implemented, the collective wrote, “Post the Balasore accident, the government had announced plans to implement the Kavach safety system on 6,000 km of tracks by 2023 on the Delhi-Guwahati route which would have covered Bengal too, but it has only been deployed on 1,500 km. If Kavach had been in place, the Kanchanjunga accident could have been avoided.”

The Financial Accountability Network has placed two key demands, “(a)To ensure a fair and transparent investigation, it is essential to examine not only this accident but also the series of accidents in recent times. This investigation should aim to identify the systemic reasons for the severe compromise of rail safety and hold those responsible accountable; (b) The findings and proposed safety measures must be presented to the parliament, along with a detailed timeline for the implementation of each measure. Furthermore, progress reports on the completion and compliance of these safety measures should be regularly submitted to the parliament and made available to the public to ensure accountability and transparency.”

“As per government’s own data presented in parliament we have witnessed 71 accidents per annum since 2014. Accountability must be demanded for the millions of lives that rely on the railway network every single day. The blood spilled on these tracks cries out for justice and reform before more innocent lives are lost to the wheels of neglect and incompetence. Is this the true meaning of Modi’s guarantee?” the Financial Accountability Network questioned.

Make a contribution to Independent Journalism
facebook twitter