EAS Sarma, former secretary of the Government of India, has demanded the Railways and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal to give priority to safety in Railways. Pointing out to specific reference from a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), Mr Sarma cautions the Railway Minister to leave everything else and concentrate on safety instead of waiting for another accident to occur.
Mr Sarma has been sending warning to Railway Ministers about lackadaisical attitude of railways towards safety. In his recent letter, he says, "I thought that Railways, after the successive accidents, would drop the idea of taking up bullet trains and, instead, focus on the safety of tracks, modernisation of unmanned level crossings etc. The stampede on the narrow footbridge at the Elphinstone station in Mumbai has once again raised public anger against the warped priorities of the Railways."
"What surprised me is Report No13/2016 of CAG on Railways. I reproduce a portion of Para 6.8.8 of that report, that says, 'Foot over Bridge (FOB) is a critical element of crowd management and is prone to stampede. It was observed that FOBs were not strong enough to sustain crowd pressure at 25 stations of seven Zonal Railways'," Mr Sarma says.
According to the former Secretary, what the CAG had said so clearly ought to have woken up Rail Ministry in time to save the innocent lives of the people. He says, "Who is responsible for the inaction that has cost people's lives? Is it not ironic that the Prime Minister should spend so much effort on buying bullet trains from Japan instead of thinking of investing on safety improvements first? Is not the government misguided by warped priorities?"
"It is criminal on the part of the Railways to act indifferently towards modernising the 14,000 unmanned level crossings, strengthening the railways tracks, installing modern advance alert systems, crowd management systems and safety of women travelling by train," Mr Sarma added.
In his earlier letter on 28 December 2016, Mr Sarma had said, "To the ordinary citizen not affiliated to any political party, the blame goes to everyone. Something is wrong with the safety systems in place in the Railways and the priority given to safety in the Railway budget. What is the use of merging the Railway budget with the general Budget, when the priority is for Wi-Fi and bullet trains, and not for the safety of passengers?"
"Once again, as a responsible Minister in charge of the Railways, you have the obligation to bring in technology into safety systems. Instead of holding the small fry responsible for these accidents, you will do well to hold those in the higher echelons answerable. Otherwise, you will only encourage the business-as-usual approach that will continue to consume human lives and cause human trauma," the former Secretary wrote to the then Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu.
"The money that you spend in the budget on Railways is the money given to you by the tax-payer of this country to spend prudently, not fritter away on foreign companies to introduce 'bullet trains' and so on. May I request you to recall what all I have been saying on the need to launch a mission of 'Zero Tolerance for Accidents', make the senior officers of the Railways responsible for lapses and assure the nation of an accident-free railway system in a time bound manner?" Mr Sarma asked.