On 27 November, 1956, an Indian Railways train met with an accident at Arilayur in Tamil Nadu, killing 144 passengers. Exactly 60 years after that incident, Indians woke up to the news of the Indore-Patna train disaster killing 142 passengers.
This is where the tragic coincidences end.
Back then, when 142 passengers died, Railways minister Lal Bahadur Shastri decided to perform penance and resign. "I am responsible," Shastri said and quit in Parliament. Accepting the resignation, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru told the House: "All of us are very unhappy over the tragedy but I am sure — in fact I know it — that probably the unhappiest among all of us is the Railway Minister." And now we have Suresh Prabhu, a railways minister who offers nothing except self-congratulatory propaganda on Twitter.
"Enhanced amount of ex-gratia compensation to the victims of this unfortunate accident: Rs 3.5 lakh in case of death," Prabhu informs the applauding nation.
1/Enhanced amount of ex-gratia compensation to the victims of this unfortunate accident:Rs.3.5 L in case of death
— Suresh Prabhu (@sureshpprabhu) November 20, 2016
Hope the relief would be in new currency notes, sent to banks that have ATMs that work.
Then he fires a Twitter warning: Guilty won't be spared. Ah, that's another way of passing the buck.
Who is guilty, Mr Prabhu?
Since your government came to power, fares and fees have gone up dramatically. Your ministry now charges exorbitant amounts for cancellations, doesn't give a full berth to kids if full fare is not paid and has increased fares and freight rates under various pretexts. On top of that, we have the harebrained scheme of dynamic pricing that sometimes lead to the hilarious situation of train fares being more expensive than air travel?
According to a white paper put out by Prabhu last year, Indian Railway’s network has 1,14,907 kilometres of total track length. Of this, 4500 kilometres of track should be renewed annually. However, due to financial constraints, the progress in track renewals is constantly coming down over the last six years. As on 1 July, 2014, 5300 kilometres track length is due for renewal. The target for the current year is only 2100 kilometres. Arrears of track renewal are accumulating which will result in disproportionately high maintenance effort. This will also result in reduced reliability of assets.
Please tweet, Mr Prabhu, how much of the earnings were spent on passenger safety? On replacing old tracks, installing automatic train protection system to minimise manual errors?
Please tweet, what is the status of your Rs 1,20,000 crore safety fund called the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh?
Please tweet, whether this fund was cleared by the ministry of finance or it remained just what your government is famous for — a mere jumla?
Please tweet, how have your new ideas like dynamic pricing helped the railways? Last heard, the national carrier was suffering a loss of Rs 30,000 crore because of your ministry's decision to hike prices and fares without providing additional safety and services.
Please tweet, what is the status of the recommendations of the Anil Kakodkar panel on Railways? What happened to its suggestion that there be an independent safety regulator? Last heard, your junior minister was telling the Parliament that the regulator was under consideration. How many more deaths and accidents will help you make up your mind?
The truth is, the entire railways is guilty of murder of passengers who boarded the ill-fated train. It is the result of lack of urgency for making train travel safe, carrying on with the historical legacies of previous governments that used it just for addressing its political constituency.
Two years ago, when Prabhu had presented his first budget, Firstpost had hailed his decision to eschew populism and work on making Railways a top-class service provider. But, since then, most of his early promise has been belied and reforms halted. Falling revenues, inadequate safety measures reveal that he has been all talk and very little action.
Prabhu is right when he says the guilty should be punished.
Ever heard of moral responsibility? Ever heard of a gentleman called Lal Bahadur Shastri, Mr Minister?