Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee is a lucky lady. All the three mishaps in Uttar Pradesh on January 2 took place on a foggy day when the trains, as per instruction, were travelling at a very slow speed before they rammed into the stationary ones on the same track. At normal speed the casualties would have been many times more and would have led to much hue and cry, especially in Bihar and UP, as all the five trains involved have their origin in these two states.
Though the railways quickly blamed the inclement weather for the mishaps yet the truth is that Mamata Banerjee’s ministry got a good opportunity to hide all the truths behind the fog.
Same track collisions, whether head-on or from the rear, are pointer to a series of serious lapses and systematic failure. Mamata Banerjee cannot go away with just saying that the drivers over-shot the signal and that the probes have been ordered. In this age of state-of-the-art technology, with drivers and cabin-men having their own walky-talky and all sorts of accident prevention device available, how can three collisions take place within three hours? After all fog is an annual phenomenon and the railways have overcome even denser fog in the past. What is more the January 2 collisions have come too close to the one which took place on October 21 last near Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, where Goa Express hit the Mewar Express from behind killing over two dozen passengers, mostly women. There was no fog then.
Had there been derailment or bridge collapse, the railways would have put all the blame on Maoists or saboteurs. The story of disconnected fish-plates would have been circulated in the media. But same track collisions, and that too almost simultaneously and within a short distance of 500 kms, is too criminal a negligence to be defended.
What Mamata Banerjee failed to appreciate is that the people, in general, are not just interested in knowing whether the railways under her predecessor, Lalu Prasad’s tenure, had earned the profit of Rs 39,411 crore and not Rs 88,669 crore. What in fact they are interested is in the safety of passengers.
THE MOOT QUESTION
The big question is why the number of collisions – not to speak of other mishaps – increased suddenly in the last few months when everything is more or less the same. The one valid explanation is that playing politics with the gigantic empire like Indian Railways has started taking its toll. Whether the White Paper will damage Lalu Prasad politically or not is a different story, it has certainly let down the railway officials and employees from top to bottom. The top brass are seriously debating as to how is the Indian Railways going to be benefited by now telling the world that it had earned less profit than what they had been claiming for the previous five years. They are now even allowed to tell the world that the profit of Rs 39,411 crore too was no mean achievement.
This guilt feeling is working as a de-motivating factor for the railway employees who work in odd hours, at odd places and in challenging conditions. Instead of giving incentive, pep talk and pat on the back, they are being asked to paint the past in the blackest of colours. Besides, the message has gone among them that Mamata had her eyes riveted on Writers’ Building and is not keen to last too long in the Rail Bhawan. What confounded the people is that Mamata opened her front against her predecessor in the first week of July itself, when she presented the railway budget. That is five months before the publication of White Paper.
The bottom line is that Mamata cannot blame Lalu for so many collisions. Today the latter is in a position of saying that during his tenure the number of major accidents really came down. By confusing the rank and file of the Indian Railways, Mamata has exhibited lack of leadership and managerial quality.