UP mishap: avoidable tragedy

Negligent driving claimed the lives of 12 children when a school van collided with a train at an unmanned railway crossing at Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh. According to eyewitnesses, the driver, who also lost his life in the collision, was speeding and wearing earphones while driving. Apparently, a railway volunteer had cautioned the driver against speeding just a few minutes before the tragedy. It is likely that the driver would not have heard the sound of the approaching train. As he was speeding as well, he would have realised too late that a train was approaching and ended up colliding with it. According to reports, the driver was under-age. The van was not registered and did not have licence plates. Besides, even the school, which owned the van, was an unrecognised institution. The children’s parents had apparently complained to the school about the driver but nothing was done. Now their children are dead thanks to an insensitive and negligent system. Adding insult to injury was Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s insensitive berating of the parents for complaining about the local government’s lack of response to their demands for a manned railway crossing near the school.

Only a week before the Kushinagar accident, 27 children, all of them below 10 years of age, were killed when a school bus plunged into a gorge at Kangra in Himachal Pradesh. Accidents involving vehicles carrying school children are frequent and widespread in India. More often than not, the vehicles are overcrowded. Auto-rickshaws ferrying children to school in Bengaluru, for instance, are often overflowing with children. Though rules put a limit on the number of people these vehicles can ferry, the police simply look the other way. When an accident occurs, they swing into action for a few days to mollify the angry public. How many lives will have to be sacrificed before authorities wake up?

The railways has an abysmal record when it comes to safety. Though the Kushinagar accident occurred because of the van driver’s negligence, the railways cannot dodge responsibility. For years they have been promising to convert unmanned crossings to manned ones. Yet, we still have some 5,792 unmanned crossings across the railway network. Every unmanned railway crossing in the country is a death trap that could claim the lives of people and animals. Reacting to the Kushinagar accident, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal promised to advance the 2020 deadline for elimination of unmanned crossings. Will he fulfil that promise? Budget restrictions are often blamed for a large number of unmanned crossings. But this is not the problem. The railways’ focus on speed over safety is the problem.

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UP mishap: avoidable tragedy

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