Merely by initiating actions against erring railwaymen, Indian Railways will not be able to ensure passengers’ safety. There is lot to be done apart from suspending or removing officials and staffs. Beyond doubt, negligent staffers should be punished. But at the same time people sitting at the top, who always jeopardise smooth functioning of rail by politically motivated decisions, should not be spared too. Only then a passenger can travel in the trains without being worried about safety.
It is often being said that Indian Railways is the ‘lifeline’ of the nation. The statement is not at all exaggerated. But what we did with this national lifeline is utterly shameful. If anyone does a simple calculation to find the ration of how many kilometres of new railway track were laid and how many new trains we have introduced since Independence, he or she will get the answer easily. For example, 100 new trains were introduced in the years 2009. Outgoing Railway minister Lallu Prasad Yadav introduced 40 new trains while presenting the vote on accounts and this was followed by new incumbent Mamata Banerjee by inducting 60 new trains just to please her political constituency. While Mamata got her political sums right as such populist measures propelled her to the seat of power in West Bengal, Indian Railways being overburdened, continued to suffer.
Another fact, which we should consider seriously that in the name of being the ‘lifeline’ of the nation and being the largest public sector unit of the country, we continued to take lot more from the railways giving virtually nothing in return. For example, Indian Railways operating ratio is nearly 95 paise. Operation ratio provides us the figures how much we spend on constructing new tracks and maintenance of the infrastructure of every rupee earn. So if the expenditure is nearly 95 paise out of every 100 paise, one can easily understand that Indian Railways has virtually no money to lay new tracks or to properly maintain the infrastructure. It may be noted here that in 2008, the operating ratio was as less as 83 paise. But as general elections were nearing, the incumbent government was desperate to come back to power implemented the pay commission report ignoring the fact that it would badly affect the financial health of the railways. Sadly, no one did any homework to find out the extent of damage that would be caused with substantial increase of the salary bill.
It goes beyond saying that when the bosses are not interested in keeping Indian Railways in good health, disaster such as the Utkal Express tragedy, in which over 50 people died, are bound to happen. If a train runs at 105 km per hour speed on a track which was laid nearly a century ago and not being maintained properly, accidents are bound to happen. To minimise such possibilities, Indian Railways would have to put more stress on maintenance of the tracks. If fund does not permit to take up such exercise, speed of the trains must be controlled. One should remember there is no point of talking about High-Speed trains, if we cannot maintain the existing tracks. Funds earmarked for such projects should be spent to strengthen and enhance the railway infrastructure of the country. Otherwise, ‘Lifeline’ of the nation will always be in the news for lack of safety.