Kanchanjunga tragedy: Lack of Kavach, diversion of funds behind accident, says report

Financial Accountability Network India releases report criticising Modi government's management of railway funds

The scene of the accident (photo: PTI)
The scene of the accident (photo: PTI)

NH Digital

Had the Modi government implemented the Kavach safety system across 6,000 km of railway tracks, particularly targeting the Delhi-Guwahati route, the Kanchanjunga Express tragedy of 17 June could have been averted, according to a report by Financial Accountability Network (FAN) India.

FAN India, a collective of civil society organisations and unions, monitors the accountability and transparency of national financial institutions. In the aftermath of the Kanchanjunga Express tragedy, glaring problems within Indian Railways have come to light, highlighting a disturbing neglect of safety and essential infrastructure investments.

FAN India's report, released on Thursday, criticises the Modi government's management of railway funds, despite the creation of the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) in 2017.

Intended to enhance railway safety, these funds have been misappropriated for trivial expenses such as foot massages, crockery, and furniture, the network has said. The misallocation of resources raises serious ethical concerns, suggesting that passenger lives are being compromised for financial "savings".

FAN India's report highlights that there has been a conscious neglect of safety and reliability investments, particularly in signaling and track modernisation.

  • The report also points to overcrowding as a direct result of government decisions, with seats and berths in general classes reduced from 50 to 43 per cent between 2012 and 2022

  • Non-AC sleeper sections declined from 36 per cent to 33 per cent, while the number of AC coaches increased from 15 per cent to 24 per cent. This shift towards more expensive AC coaches on faster trains has priced out many lower-income passengers who relied on affordable second-class tickets

  • The report also notes a decline in the punctuality of mail and express trains, which dropped from 79 per cent in 2012-13 to 69.23 per cent in 2018-19. Despite these significant issues, attention is often diverted to less critical initiatives, such as the installation of selfie booths.

  • FAN India highlighted that in the Central Railway Zone, selfie booths costing Rs 6.25 lakh each have been installed on platforms, further illustrating the misallocation of resources.

In response to the Kanchanjunga Express calamity, the government announced compensation packages: Rs 10 lakh for families of the deceased, Rs 2.5 lakh for the seriously injured, and Rs 50,000 for those with minor injuries. While these compensations are necessary, they do not address the underlying structural issues.

Underscoring the need for a thorough overhaul of priorities within Indian Railways, FAN India has made several demands:

  1. Comprehensive investigation: Ensure a fair and transparent investigation into the Kanchanjunga Express accident and other recent accidents. This investigation should identify systemic reasons for the severe compromise of rail safety and hold those responsible accountable

  2. Parliamentary oversight: Present the findings and proposed safety measures to Parliament, along with a detailed timeline for implementing each measure

  3. Regular progress reports: Submit progress reports on the completion and compliance of these safety measures to Parliament and make them publicly available to ensure accountability and transparency

The Kanchanjunga Express was travelling from Tripura's capital Agartala to Sealdah station in Kolkata when it was struck from behind by a goods train near Rangapani station, close to New Jalpaiguri, on the morning of 17 June. The collision resulted in the deaths of 11 people and injuries to 41 others. Preliminary findings indicate that a combination of human error and signal failure were contributing factors.

According to the Railway Board's initial report on Monday, the goods train, operating under a defective automatic signaling system, was travelling above the speed limit when it crashed into the Kanchanjunga Express, a claim that has been contested by multiple loco pilots' unions.

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