We have not had an accident-free year for a long time now. The Indian Railways gives administrative solutions to technical problems and finds technical reasons to escape the administration's accountability. Local, low-cost solutions already in the possession of the Indian Railways are never used
Another railway accident has taken place in West Bengal—an express train from Guwahati derailed and collided into a local train on 31st July (Sunday), killing one person and injuring at least 38 people.
The so called "vital" signal systems were in operation, with innumerable staff maintaining the same. But when "non-vital", non-signal equipment like our own Raksha Kavach has been ready for more than a decade now, the RDSO (the Research Design and Standards Organization) keeps on conducting umpteen number of unending proving tests and trials, treating it as a standalone system. But the Raksha Kavach was just an additional layer to the existing system. It was supposed to augment, not replace a vital system. The Kavach was just supposed to plug holes in our railway system, at a low cost. But the goalposts keep getting shifted every time the intelligent device proves itself; it becomes a case of ego massage to try to get the authorities to approve the installation of this system.
But why is that? One ‘unfortunate’ aspect it that the Raksha Kavach is from India, from another railwayman. As per the current line of official reasoning, how can a colleague do the some thing that the railway authorities have failed to do all these years? Again, the Kavach comes at a low cost. The Railway Budget cannot build its empire if funds are slashed for indigenous anti-collision devices (ACDs). And since the Kavach is not of foreign origin, railway officials cannot get foreign junkets for training. On the top of this, this ACD technology can be a huge threat to the grandiose plans of the concerned department to go on an import spree, all in the name of safety.
There is one more serious structural deficiency which has not been brought out in public till now.
Raksha Kavach or the ACD is only one victim of this deficiency. Over the last 50 years, the Indian Railways has not produced any thing worthwhile from the RDSO, which is its premier R&D technical centre, unique in the world with all disciplines under one roof and dedicated with an annual budget of more than
Rs30 crore to Rs40 crore, spread over a beautiful colony in Lucknow. No one has seriously considered to identify what is ailing the RDSCO and correcting the same. The last attempt was by the late Madhavrao Scindia, who, as Railway Minister, prepared a restructuring report for the RDSO, which looked at ways to improve its working. As luck would have it, I was the principal contributor to the effort at that time, in 1986.
Maybe it is time the general public also know the real problem debilitating the railway from getting out of its rut.
For railway personnel, an accident and determination of cause of the mishap is always a cause for provocation; invariably, battle lines are drawn between departments.
Rarely is the truth revealed. The technical fights are taken to the hollowed portals of the RDSO too, which is supposed to be a technical body, but there too, the same field attitudes prevail.
Logical updating of criteria for evaluating safety of track-vehicle interaction and safety certification process by RDSO for clearing new rolling stock have never been done.
The case of the CRT wagon which got introduced despite poor oscillation and trial results can never be forgotten. A number of derailments—along with the huge cost entailed, over a decade, finally forced the powers-that-be to dump all these thousands of wagons. The way track engineers too fight not to budge from their poor track standards in earlier years, forced a director for wagons in the RDSO, to introduce BOX-N ( a wagon with high un-sprung mass and hard riding on tracks to wear out rails), to "destroy" tracks, which he told me, with a wink, at that time. Then track engineers went about introducing 90UTS rails. The expensive games our people pay cost the nation huge sums of money.
Confrontations, arguments and debates do shake up the system; but these should not necessarily be done at a high cost to the system and with bad blood.
Frequency domain analysis and advanced mathematical modelling for simulating the conditions which are not possible to cover by the limited few kilometres of tests with limited parametric variations, never got off the ground. Safety case analysis is less than satisfactory by international standards. Resistance was and is phenomenal.
The core problem is that RDSO is that it is trying to function as the technical authority with no training except for field training for its incumbents occupying and warming the chairs, thereby becoming experts—who somehow spend time to go back to the field to seek career opportunities. True, none joined service to become professors or scientists or mathematical geniuses.
The day you wear the hat of a director, within 24 hours, you hold the power of veto on anything that moves in the RDSO, which concerns your department. Inter-disciplinary problems are sought to be solved purely with departmental bias.
Individuals who come there from organised services are excellent and brilliant but ambitious too, naturally. But their eyes are to reach the positions they desire and aspire to be back in the railways.
Meantime, the waiting tenure in RDSO is spent as best as the personnel at the centre can—some learn quite a lot—some contribute significantly within the limitations, but everyone wants to get back.
Safety issues are dealt in the most unprofessional manner. The typical approach is that the Indian Railways gives administrative solutions to technical problems and finds technical reasons to escape administration's accountability.
In restructuring the system to allow for true technology cycles to take off, it was proposed that the officers who opt to join RDSO should accept a one-way ticket —that is, they do get 30% to 50% higher emoluments, performance-based bonuses and creation of scientific cadre grades and in situ promotions. But first, they have to go through a rigorous IIT-based one-year course leading to a diploma/post graduate qualification in basic mathematical modelling and research tools, losing also the departmental tag, remaining a railway man only, without departmental administrative bias, anymore.
The institution should become an autonomous body under the control of the transport ministry, but grants for running the same should be granted by the Indian Railways. This would prevent any further influence of bosses in the Railways riding roughshod over the work of the RDSO.
It may be argued that then the RDSO will become another ghost CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) lab with the same level of zero performance and lots of privileges with an easy life. It is possible. But the hope is that since with basic field experience of, a say a decade, people are brought
into the system, the love & commitment built into the officer for the railways, and the sacrifice he has to make to quit his own service, may all add up to a renewed vigour to push the boundaries of knowledge to contribute to the working of the railways.
Further, all the commissioners of railway safety can then belong to this autonomous technical regulatory authority, and also be chosen from the members of this body.
Like all things in our country, we may have to again give ourselves a chance. But there no future for the current safety mechanism, which has proven to be a hopeless structure.
When your door to return to normal railway operations is shut and by attitude, you choose and excel in the work of the advancement of safety and technology improvements, and your advice carries the authority of an autonomous independent body, the truth has a chance.
Truly outstanding officers who want to really improve do get stifled in RDSO. The departmental games each one officer plays with each other makes it a
We end up producing hot air and safety & technology become victims of product sellers’ lobbies.
Where everyone believes his own version as the truth, the truth dies.
We refuse to allow the CRS (commissioner of railway safety) reports of an accident inquiry to be made public. Why not? A publicly conducted inquiry, if the entire report is public, can analyse what led the authority to its conclusions. It is unfair to the authority to take all the flak, without knowing what exactly was the basis for conclusions drawn; if baseless conclusions are seen to be arrived at, let the stupidity be exposed.
But the technical wing of the RDSO is consulted by CRS, by which he forms his reports. But like everything else in our system, bureaucracy rules here,
Again the bane of our world is working in secrecy.
Lives lost in accidents did not trouble the mandarins in the high echelons over decades—the Indian Railways chugs on, again with the same repetitive platitudes.
It is amazing that we tend to ruminate over each incident for 24 hours, except the platitudes and then keep waiting for the next accident to happen.
(Mr Rajaram is the former Chairman & Managing Director of the Konkan Railway Corporation and inventor of the Skybus).
Shantanu has more than 30 years of experience in financial services
Shantanu Mitra-who was the deputy CEO overseeing risk management and the urban business at Fullerton India-takes over as the CEO of the company on 1 August 2011.
Shantanu joined the parent company Fullerton Financial Holdings, Singapore in early 2010 as the head of consumer risk management for consumer markets across all operational entities in various countries including India. He later also started heading the urban markets business at Fullerton India. Following the end of the term of the earlier CEO Ruben Mora, Shantanu has been elevated to the position of CEO and president of Fullerton India.
Shantanu has more than 30 years of experience in financial services, with about 20 years at Standard Chartered and Citibank where he had stints in India, Singapore and Thailand. Prior to joining Fullerton, he was senior regional risk officer, India, Middle East & Africa at Standard Chartered Bank, based in Mumbai. Shantanu began his career at Arthur Young & Co and later Moore Stephens & Co, both chartered accounting firms located in London.
Fullerton India has a widespread presence in over 325 urban and rural markets through its own branch network.
Telecom minister Kapil Sibal wants to reach out to the masses in the rural areas with modern banking facilities through the post offices
The humble post office is all set to undergo a radical change with a proposal to convert over 1.5 lakh post offices across the nation into full fledged banks on the anvil.
Telecom minister Kapil Sibal wants to reach out to the masses in the rural areas with modern banking facilities through the post offices. "We want to commercialise the department. We will seek a licence from the RBI to convert all our post offices into banks," Mr Sibal told PTI.
The lack of modern banking facilities in rural areas and dependence of villagers on informal sector for their credit requirements has prompted the government to work on financial inclusion by way of setting up 'postal banks'.
"The State Bank of India can't build branches all over India, but there are post offices across India. The branches are already there, so infrastructure expenditure is not required. So you can actually give banking facilities at relatively lower costs, which would be extremely beneficial to people," he said.