Modi govt 'destroying' railways, an accident every 3 days: Congress

Congress leader Supriya Shrinate notes as many as 1,117 railway accidents took place in 2014–23 and calls for (repeat) railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw's resignation

The mangled goods train that crashed into the Kanchanjunga Express (photo: @nistula/X)
The mangled goods train that crashed into the Kanchanjunga Express (photo: @nistula/X)

NH Political Bureau

Accusing the government of "destroying" the Indian Railways, the Congress on Tuesday, 18 June, has called for the resignation of railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw following the Kanchanjunga Express accident, arguing he has no moral right to continue in his position.

The principal opposition party also mocked Vaishnaw for arriving at the accident site riding pillion on a motorcycle, questioning whether he is a rail minister or a 'reel minister'.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said that the railway minister often appears at accident sites under the glare of cameras, giving the impression that all is well. Kharge challenged prime minister Narendra Modi to clarify who should be held accountable — the railway minister or himself.

Kharge posed seven critical questions to the government in a post on X, demanding immediate answers.

1. He questioned why, after a major incident like the Balasore accident, not a single kilometre of railway route has been covered by of the much-touted 'Kavach' anti-collision system.

2. He also raised concerns about the nearly 3 lakh vacant positions in the Railways that have remained unfilled for the past decade.

3. Citing the NCRB's 2022 report, Kharge pointed out in an X post that 100,000 people have died in rail accidents between 2017 and 2021, and demanded to know who would take responsibility for this alarming statistic.

4. The Railway Board itself has admitted that the long working hours of loco pilots due to acute shortage of manpower are the main reason for the increasing number of accidents. Kharge asked why the posts were still not filled.

5. 'In its 323rd report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee had criticised the Railways for the "neglect" shown by the Railway Board towards the recommendations of the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS). It was underlined that the CRS investigates only 8–10 per cent of accidents. Why was the CRS not strengthened?' Kharge asked.

5. According to the CAG, 75 per cent of the funding reduced for the Rashtriya Rail Suraksha Kosh (RRSK), while Rs 20,000 crore was to be made available every year. Again, Kharge asked, why was this decision taken?

Why was the money that was allotted being used by railway officials for unnecessary expenses and comfort facilities, Kharge further asked.

7. He also inquired about the reduction in the number of sleeper coaches, even as the cost of sleeper class travel has increased.

Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters later, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate noted the Railways is perhaps the most preferred mode of transport as far as the middle-class, lower-middle class and the poor are concerned — simply because it is the most economical means of transportation. And yet, we are travelling in the opposite direction from affordable, she noted.

She held up pictures of the Balasore train accident from June 2023 as a reminder of India's worst ever rail tragedy, and then of Monday's accident, asking what had changed between these two incidents.

Shrinate noted that as many as 1,117 railway accidents had taken place from 2014 to 2023, which means an accident every three days!

Needless to say, they have resulted in the loss of life and property.

"Who is going to take the moral responsibility for this? We have seen the railway ministers in the past own up moral responsibility and resign from their position of power. But here we have a minister who does not miss an opportunity even in the time of plight and tragedy to make reels," said Shrinate.

"[Ashiwini Vaishnaw] is not the rail minister, he is the reels minister of India,"
Supriya Shrinate

"Even when he (Vaishnaw) went to Darjeeling and went to the accident site, he rode pillion on the bike without a helmet so that he is better captured in the video. Is that what's your priority?" Shrinate asked.

She also highlighted the failure of the government's much-touted 'Kavach protection' project.

"What explains the 3,12,000 vacancies in the Indian railways? What explains the 21 per cent vacant positions for loco pilots?" she asked.

Asked whether the Congress expects Vaishnaw's resignation, Shrinate said, "Without a doubt."

A government that is sensitive and accountable will fix accountability for every minister and every department.
Supriya Shrinate

"What explains 1,117 rail accidents in nine years from 2014 to 2023. Who is accountable for that?" she continued.

"Unless you fix accountability, how should people trust governance? How should people know they will be safe while travelling on the railways?"

What did Ashwini Vaishnaw do to not just modernise but make the railways secure from June last year in Balasore to June this year?
Supriya Shrinate

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