Govt seems to pursue its own agenda
A few days ago we saw an “election bullet train” being launched in Ahmedabad. The bullet train is supposed to run between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The first question is that the launch could have very well taken place in Mumbai too, but no, the idea of the government is not to provide economic high-speed rail travel. Instead, it wants to use it as an election ploy in the upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections. Can anyone please tell us what happened to the Ahmedabad Metro, which was also launched by Narendra Modi when he was the chief minister? The BJP and the government have a lot to explain.
Look at the safety statistics of the Indian Railways under the current government: 259 passengers have been killed, 973 injured in 29 major railway accidents since the Modi government took office. India led the world in railway accidents by recording the maximum number of casualties and accidents in 2016. This has been the highest in a decade. As much as 40 per cent of 1,219 line sections of Indian Railways are congested beyond 100 per cent capacity, thus resulting in lack of safety.
Around 1.42 lakh posts for safety staff remain unfilled across India, which, experts say is a major concern and clear case of official apathy. The total number of vacancies in the safety categories, including Group C and Group D (front line categories) is 1,25,754. More than `1 lakh crores will be needed to upgrade signalling system and strengthening of tracks. It is only in its third year did the Modi government realise that it needed to create a Rail Safety Fund.
Every fifth train accident in the last two years occurred because of unmanned level crossings. Between April 2015 and March 2017, 98 people lost their lives at such crossings. According to the information provided in the Rajya Sabha in August by minister of state for railways Rajen Gohain, there are 7,701 such crossings across the country. Gujarat tops the list with 1,895 unmanned level crossings, followed by UP with 1,112 such crossings. Six of every 10 rail accidents, in recent years, have happened because of mistakes by or the negligence of railway staff, according to a study by the Niti Aayog.
Can the government shy away from accepting the above data? Lives of innocent passengers are being put at risk every second, but the government is keen to announce big-ticket projects.
In 2011, the UPA had constituted a High-Level Safety Review Committee under the chairmanship of former Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar. The committee submitted a detailed report with 106 recommendations in 2012.
The Bibek Debroy Committee appointed by the present Modi government too had called for adopting the Kakodkar Committee’s recommendations to improve safety. Although the government claims that it had adopted 68 out of those 106 recommendations, according to the written replies of the railway ministry only 20 recommendations are in final stages of implementation.
We are not against innovation, but the government has made Railways a vehicle for propagating its own agenda rather than serving the people.
The writer is a Congress leader
It will take Railways to a new milieu
What is wrong with India running a bullet train? The surprise is that the Congress, which ruled India for over five decades, had not thought about it and the Communists never raised the bogey of elitism when Communist China introduced it with great flourish. Is their case that India is ever destined to remain poor and the good things of the world are not for Indians?
The same set of people a few years ago opposed colour televisions, computers, flyovers, five-star hotels and even the Asian games in the 1980s. They had resisted nuclear tests and even mobile phones. They will not change. For they live in the past and Das Kapital was written at a time people had not thought of anything but power looms, mines and steam engines.
The argument is that the money spent on bullet trains can build many schools, roads and hospitals. It is also argued that the safety of train travel is the priority, not superspeed travel. And the cost, they say, is equal to air tickets.
Yes, there cannot be any compromise on safety in a transport system where millions travel every day and which is the primary mode of commutation for Indians. The transfer of technology will immensely modernise Indian Railways with better signalling systems and a world-class rail in the world. In five decades of bullet train service in Japan, not a single accident has occurred. The new speed technology will take Indian Railways to an altogether new milieu. The basic need of our transportation sector is the appreciation of speed, and the need for world-class services.
The high-speed trains will connect cities better and reduce demand for inter-city air traffic. This will allow airlines to focus more on longer routes, reducing travel time and fares.
The money invested on bullet trains is almost entirely coming from Japan for an attractive 0.1 per cent interest for 40-year duration. Japan has agreed to manufacture in India, sharing its technology, helping the country’s Make in India project. This is the best deal India could have got.
The naysayers have so far not come up with any better suggestion to improve rail journey in the country. Under the Narendra Modi government, there has been a determined effort to brand the Railways as a better investment destination. It is now attracting substantial FDI and private participation. Safety is a problem, because for decades no attention was given to modernise or instil technology into this obsolete system.
The NDA inherited an archaic network whose replacement and infusion of new technology are a priority and challenge for the government. There is no need for the Congress and the Communists to crib, when somebody is undertaking a job, which they should have finished long ago.
All other arguments are silly, as they fail to address the basic question, safe, speedy and affordable mode of transport which is the backbone of any developing society.
The writer is a former editor of Organiser, and a member of the BJP Central Committee on Training and Publications