Train derailments in India: Congress can criticise Suresh Prabhu but data shows accidents are on the decline since 2014

On Sunday, the Congress accused railway minister Suresh Prabhu of "failing to perform his primary responsibility to secure passenger safety" and stated that he must accept responsibility for the Uttar Pradesh train accident which left 22 dead and 156 injured.

The Congress also claimed that 27 major accidents had taken place since Narendra Modi took office in May 2014 and six major accidents had occurred in Uttar Pradesh alone in the past year-and-a-half.

File image of Suresh Prabhu. AFP

File image of Suresh Prabhu. AFP

According to a report in PTI, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala alleged that “Prabhu and railway authorities appear to be setting new records of laxity and unpreparedness with regard to the safety and security of passengers” and called safety record of the Modi government "dismal".

But do the facts bear out the Congress' assertions? How does Prabhu's tenure compare with his predecessors?

Suresh's tenure as railway minister

According to a report in India Today, since Prabhu took over as railway minister in November 2014, there have been 347 accidents. That works out to be nearly 116 accidents per year (up to 23 August, 2017).

But data from the railway ministry seems to suggest that things have got much better for passengers over the past three years. There were 135 accidents in 2014-2015, 107 in 2015-2016 and 104 in 2016-17.

The ministry claims that accidents have been on the decline since safety measures, including updated technology, were put in place in 2014, but despite that, the railways, under Prabhu, has been in the news repeatedly for major accidents.

In March, 52 people were injured after six bogies of the Jabalpur-Nizamuddin Mahakaushal Express derailed in Mahoba district of Banda, Uttar Pradesh. In January, a train derailed at Kuneru station in Vizianagaram, Andhra Pradesh, killing over 27 people and injuring over 100 others.

In November 2016, the Patna-Indore Express derailed near Pukhrayan station, about 60 km from Kanpur, killing 146 people and injuring 179. According to a report in Hindustan Times, 38 people died and more than 150 injured when the Dehradun-Varanasi Janata Express derailed near Bachhrawan in Uttar Pradesh.

The allocation for track renewal also almost doubled in the past five years: From an average of Rs 5,548.6 crore to Rs 9,961 crore in the Budget Estimate of 2017-18, according to a railway ministry official.

How did Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee do as compared to Suresh?

At the turn of the 21st century, the Indian Railways was in much worse shape.

Presenting the 2004-2005 Railway Budget, then railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, looking back at the period between 2000 and 2004, stated that due to various safety measures and sustained efforts, the number of consequential train accidents reduced from 473 in 2000, to 325 in 2004. Lalu had said that this was the lowest number of accidents ever, according to the report.

Nitish Kumar was railway minister from 2001 to 2004. During his tenure, around 1,090 accidents occurred, an average of 363 accidents per year. That's more than three times the average number of accidents per year under Prabhu's tenure.

Incidentally, Nitish had resigned from his stint as railway minister after taking moral responsibility for the 1999 Gaisal train disaster in Assam which killed at least 290 people, according to India Today.

Mamata Banerjee's term also saw its fair share of controversies. According to another report in India Today, Mamata had a spotty record as railway minister.

During her second stint, out of 100 train accidents that occurred between April 2009 and March 2010, 66 were caused due to the failure of railway staff, 14 due to other failures and almost 11 were incidents of sabotage. Mamata was also often accused of being absent from Delhi and focusing on West Bengal, according to the report.

Like Nitish, Mamata had offered to resign from her post during her first stint, after two train disasters in 2000. However, then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee rejected her resignation.

Prabhu repeats his predecessors' mistakes

While the Congress' accusations don't seem to hold water, Prabhu is far from blameless.

Like his predecessors, he failed to implement the recommendations of the Anil Kakodkar committee on railway safety — constituted in 2012 by railway minister Dinesh Trivedi and chaired by former Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar — which was accepted by the railway ministry five years ago, according to the India Today report.

The recommendations, which included filling up vacant railway staff posts and creating a special fund of Rs 1 lakh crore, were to be implemented over a five-year period, according to the report.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Aug 23, 2017 09:32 AM

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