The day our railway minister was forced to resign, a train rammed into a van killing 16 people and injuring many more! What looked like a coincidence, is not in reality one! For had he resigned almost on any other day, a similar news would have been there in any case – such is the sorry state of Indian Railways. Out of the 33,000 odd railway crossings in India, a shameful 15,000 or so are unmanned, due to which about 33% of the accidents and a whopping 60-70% of the railway deaths happen!!! Yes, that is the morbid statistics! To man a railway crossing, all we require are two men on a twelve-hour shift each, which means a salary of 1.5 lac rupees per man, multiplied by 2 per crossing, multiplied by 15000 (number of unmanned crossings); and this equates to a mere 450 crore rupees per annum, an amount that our politicians mystically do not feel the need to budget, consequently killing thousands every year, an ignominious onus that our railway ministry must directly take. While we apparently do not have this amount of 450 crore rupees, our politicians have shamefully not hiked the rail fares for ten years at a stretch, while every rail passenger whose fare should have been hiked has got salary increases year on year as well as various pay commission windfalls. The ostensible reason forwarded to us is that the aam aadmi will get penalized. Frankly, the reason itself is hogwash. The man to whom an annual raise in railway fare would hurt – the real aam aadmi in India – unfortunately doesn’t travel long distance by train... He is at the most a short distance traveller. Without any argument, the hikes are a must and the lack of it is almost criminal, especially when we have such massive safety issues in the plying of trains.
If just inflation would have been adjusted into fares these ten long years – not having done even that, I repeat, is almost criminal – then the railways would have been richer by 25000 crore rupees per year! Compare that now to the meagre 450 crore rupees that is required to phenomenally reduce the 60-70% deaths which occur on railway crossings! The money thus earned would have not only taken care of all our safety related expenses but also the pathetic speed of growth of Indian Railways since the British left India (for comparison’s sake, China every year adds five times more new tracks than India).
In most of the budget shows that I attended this year, I was asked that if the solution was so simple, then why had the ministry not already increased the fares? My answer was that with money, comes the responsibility of spending it. Our politicians are literally so visionless and irresponsible, one worse than the other, that they have simply chosen to not undertake such a clearly straightforward solution. And of course, it helps their jaundiced political posturing of being ‘highly concerned’ about the aam aadmi; all this while actually murdering the aam aadmi in cold blood – a common trait of the Indian political class, top to bottom. They claim that 97% of Indians travel ‘lower class’. The fact is that 97% of railway seats are lower class. None of this actually means that the poor are traveling long distance via trains here in India.
The suburban railways in Mumbai kill about 15 people every day! We have had more than one thousand accidents in the last 8 years while we refused to increase fares! India has the world’s fourth largest railway network spanning over 60,000 km, behind the US, Russia and China, but the highest number of accidents; many, many times more than the other three. In fact, we have the highest railway related deaths and accidents in the world; and that’s not because we are the second-most populated country in the world; these statistics hold even in terms of per capita deaths. Safety is guiltlessly compromised without blinking twice while we flippantly keep claiming that safety, safety and safety is our first priority! And in the middle of all this, a substantial portion of even the allocated railway safety budget remains shockingly unutilised! Add to this the unmanned crossings, ill maintained tracks, lack of modern anti-collision technologies – which are standard in the West (for example, devices which bring trains to an automatic stop if they overshoot any signal) – plus, of course, the threat from insurgents, and you have all the makings of the grandest farce being played out in the political grandstanding arena.
It’s not just railways, on Indian roads every year more than 2 lac people get killed – this is four times more than the numbers that died during the monstrous war on Vietnam! All this because we refuse to add just ten percent more to our road budget, in order to make side-tracks for cyclists – the largest casualty on our roads year after year! In Japan, apparently not one person has died in any rail accident since World War II! That is called care, concern and commitment to safety and world class standards. Our shamefully uncommitted and mostly illiterate politicians need to be told this and should be forced to learn this.
- 22 March 2012 |
- Arindam on Indian Politics