Statement of Lok Raj Sangathan and Kamgar Ekta Committee, October 2017
It is a matter of great concern to all of us that instead of becoming safer and more comfortable, travel on the Indian Railways is becoming ever more dangerous and distressing.
- At least 23 people died in the recent Elphinstone Road station tragedy, while hundreds were injured and psychologically scarred.
- In 1952, Mumbai’s suburban rail system was carrying 292 million passengers; by 2016 that number was up to 2.7 billion, a nine time increase. Over the same period, the number of trains grew less than four times–from 741 to 2,800.
- Mumbai’s local trains carry about 75 lakh passengers every day, packed on average, to 2.6 times the capacity of coaches and the railway track!
- As a consequence, every day on an average, 9 – 10 people die in Mumbai either by falling out of trains or while crossing the tracks.
- In the ten years up to 2015, 6,989 passengers died after falling from trains and 22,289 died crossing the tracks!
- All over India, in 2015-16, about 84% accidents occurred due to derailments. Of the total track length of 1,14,907 km in the country, 4,500 km should be renewed annually. However, of the 5,000 km of track length due for renewal currently, only 2,700 km of track length was targeted to be renewed!
- This reduced attention to track maintenance has been the central cause of rail fractures and derailments. This year alone, the Central Railway suburban section has witnessed over 200 rail fractures, signal failures, and other technical glitches; Western Railway has witnessed 100 such glitches!
- The Railway Ministry is also forcing engine drivers to go at speeds of 120-130 km/hr. on tracks not suitable to go beyond 50-60 km/hr. In addition the increased number of trains on the busiest routes means that the tracks are taking about 180 to 250 per cent of the prescribed train load, further contributing to rail fracture and derailments.
- Required attention has not been paid to improvement of other infrastructure like platforms, foot over bridges, exits from stations, etc. Most of the infrastructure is very old. The over bridge at Elphinstone road was constructed way back in 1972. In Dadar station the crowd has increased manifold but in the last 50 years the number of platforms have not been increased.
- Thousands of positions of rail workers, directly impacting safety, are lying vacant.
Who is responsible for this state of affairs and what can we the citizens do?
Engine drivers and guards are overworked because of the large number of vacancies for these critical posts which are not being filled up. Gangmen work in very hazardous conditions again due to shortage of staff. Passengers are endangered whenever they travel, and lakhs of railway workers are endangered every day in the course of their work. Why?
This is because the authorities started handing out various important activities like the maintenance of coaches, engines, etc. to private contractors. Patrolling and repair of the tracks was handed over to private contractors who hire workers at low wages and without adequate training. This is one of the main reasons for the increase in number of derailments. Also as a deliberate policy they are refusing to fill up the large number of vacancies of engine drivers and guards and station masters etc. leading to overwork and increased risk of accidents. Privatisation in Railways is part of the overall policy of liberalisation through privatisation and globalisation introduced by the Congress Government and followed by all successive governments, whether of the BJP, Third Front, etc. Successive governments that have come to power are least bothered about the welfare of the people! They are interested only in taking care of the demands of about 150 super-rich business houses in our country who fund them. These governments implement policies that ensure that their profits grow bigger and bigger.
All these governments have been expressing lack of funds as the reason why adequate safety measures cannot be implemented or why additional facilities cannot be provided to make travel comfortable for passengers. However, the government does not seem to have any problem in finding thousands of crores for projects like the bullet train. It follows that to ensure safety of railway passengers we must first and foremost oppose the privatization drive of the Indian Railways and insist that funds for ensuring safety receive the first priority. We in fact should demand roll back of privatization already done and filling up all vacancies of railway workers affecting safety!
Ensuring the safety as well as comfort of passengers and railway workers is certainly possible if it is made a priority. Well before so many people were killed at Elphinstone Road station, many people had warned the authorities about the impending danger. However nothing was done. The root cause of the problem is that neither the rail workers nor the passengers have any say in deciding how the railways should be run. Those who decide the policies – the rail authorities and the ministers have no accountability towards them. The authorities and ministers or their near and dear ones do not suffer due to the lack of rail safety. Whenever any rail tragedy happens, they make some noises to diffuse public anger. However these promises are by and large like pre-election promises. Only if we unite and demand accountability will the scenario change!
It is also important not to leave the control and audit of various systems of railways in the hands of the Railway Ministry. We must unite and initiate the formation of committees consisting of public minded experts, volunteer citizens and railway workers. These committees should be vigilant to ensure that the safety of passengers and rail workers is not compromised under any circumstance. These committees should also insist that the required money is spent on ensuring safety. Such active participation of citizens and Railway employees will also be able to keep in check the high level corruption in the Indian Railways. Passengers and Railway workers can also unitedly force the government to plan for a futuristic Railway infrastructure which is not only safe but a pleasure for its users.