Safety and “zero-tolerance” to accidents just continue to remain a politician’s hyperbole in the annual Budget speech. With 11 mishaps in 15 months, the track record of Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee is “attractive” enough for rivals to bay for her blood.
On an average, if casualties for the last 20 years is considered, which is 186 per year, nearly one person loses his life every second day in rail accidents. Given such a figure can any Railway Minister claim to be a champion of passenger safety?
Statistics show many of Mamata’s predecessors have fared worse than the feisty leader, who is alleged to be more interested in her run for chief ministership in West Bengal than running world’s largest rail network. For Mamata, the figure is 233 deaths from November 10, 2009 to July 19, 2010, unacceptably high no doubt. But there were 302 deaths in 2006-07 when Lalu Prasad Yadav was in her chair. His rival Nitish Kumar has a worse record, with 374 fatalities in 1999-00. Kumar’s tenure in 1998-99 saw 295 deaths. The highest scorer was C K Jaffer Sharief when there were as many as 427 deaths caused by rail accidents in 1995-96.
Every time a mishap occured, the serving minister was criticised and safety steps announced but implementation of those measures for a safer track remained just in the pipeline. In her Budget speech, too, Mamata had focused on the policy of zero-tolerance to accidents and installation of hi-tech devices to ensure safety.
Two devices that could have prevented such mishaps are the anti-collision device (ACD) and train protection warning systems (TPWS). The technology used in the devices has helped both Japan and the US to minimise human error.
While the ACD has already been installed on the North Frontier Railway, installation of the device in three more zonal railways are in the pipeline for a long time. Also, despite the minister’s assurance in her budget speech that four projects of the TPWS covering 828 route kilometres would be implemented in the current year itself, nothing has been done.
For all this, while Mamata laid the blame on her predecessor, Lalu Prasad always pointed fingers at her “absentee status”.