Train mishap an opportunity for rectificationtext_fields
The tragic incident in which three trains collided in Odisha's Balasore has sent shockwaves across the country and is something that will not easily die down. Nearly three hundred people died in the accident. Clarity is yet to be emerge on aspects such as how this mishap, which is usually rare, occurred and what went wrong. What is known by now is that the Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express entered the loop line from the main line and rammed into the goods wagon parked there. The bogies, thrown off by the impact, smashed onto the Bengaluru-Howrah Express coming in the opposite direction on the next track. Most of the victims were passengers travelling in three coaches of Coromandel Express and two coaches of Howrah Express. The commendable rescue efforts of the local residents and those who narrowly escaped Friday night's emergency spoke loud about the spirit of humanity and care that emerges even in times of tragedy.
A large crowd voluntarily rushed to donate blood for emergency treatment. The President, Prime Minister, Chief Ministers and foreign leaders expressed their condolences. Compensations were announced. The true face of India was revealed when the commoners stood by the disaster victims extending support and assistance even as the communal trolls went on a rampage on social media platforms - which has become a current practice prevailing in the country. In a way, isn’t this horrifying tragedy, in which all the arrogance of power and ego had to seek refuge in helplessness, a question raised before the conscience of a new national culture that has cultivated sectarianism and animosity as the driving force of politics even in times of mishaps?
The cause of the disaster is still under investigation. One conclusion is that the signal was faulty. There are various observations, one of them being that the Coromandel Express was given signal to enter the loop line and another that the signal to continue on the main line was withdrawn. Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said that the interlocking system was faulty. If there is a technical fault, the reason for it will be found out soon. One thing is clear: there is responsibility at the government level for such a serious lapse in railway safety - especially when there were warnings that such a disaster was likely to happen. A meeting was held in February regarding railway safety. Serious glitches in interlocking were pointed out before the Railway Board, which included the Minister. However, there was no further discussion or action on the same. Reports show that only the chief manager of the South-West region had an opportunity to raise the security issue and the rest of the time was reserved for discussing the Vande Bharat trains and revenue increase.
Even if it is clear as to what happened at Balasore, it is a serious lapse that the issue of safety did not figure in the priorities of the Railway Ministry. The 'Kavach' system introduced with great fanfare has not come into effect in most places. There are also allegations that Rs 1 lakh crore from the funds earmarked for security systems, was diverted for the bullet train project. One of the reasons for derailment is the lack of timely maintenance of tracks. In this year's Union Budget, the amount assigned for railway track renovation has been cut by 14 per cent. Several of the railway tracks are in an obsolete state. The safety department is also understaffed. There is a shortfall of around 3.5 lakh employees in Indian Railways. This shortfall is in the maintenance and safety categories.
It is fair to say that emergencies should not be politicized. But that doesn't mean not pointing out the failures of the authorities. Unfortunately, the bad example of politicizing disasters seems to have come from our leaders themselves. In 2016, when a flyover collapsed in Kolkata killing 21 people, it was Prime Minister Modi who said that it was a message from God to save the country from Trinamool Congress rule. The nation witnessed a picture of a 'radical transformation' in Balasore less than two weeks after Modi announced that the work to radically transform the railways began in 2014. Yes, don't mix partisan politics with national welfare and disasters. Those concerned should introspect about the lapses in administration and stand in solidarity with the victims and relatives of the tragedy. We should reclaim the path of humanity that sees fellow beings as one's own self. Let this great calamity be an opportunity for identifying as well as rectifying the mistakes.