New Delhi: A day after railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw announced that the Railway Board has asked the Central Bureau on Investigation to probe the three-train collision in Odisha that left 275 people dead and over 1,000 injured, Congress head Mallikarjun Kharge has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi questioning this decision.
In a four-page letter, Kharge has argued that law enforcement agencies cannot fix accountability for technical, institutional and political failures.
The devastating train accident in Odisha has shocked the nation.
Today, the most crucial step is to prioritise installation of mandatory safety standards to ensure safety of our passengers
— Mallikarjun Kharge (@kharge) June 5, 2023
“The CBI is meant to investigate crimes, not railway accidents. The CBI, or any other law enforcement agency, cannot fix accountability for technical, institutional and political failures. In addition, they lack the technical expertise in railway safety, signalling, and maintenance practices,” Kharge said.
He continued that “the people in charge – your goodself [Modi] and Railway Minister Ashwani Vaishnav – do not want to admit that there are problems”.
It was odd, Kharge said, that on Sunday Vaishnaw had both claimed to have found the “root cause” of the crash and also asked the CBI to investigate.
This was not the first time, the Congress leader argued, that a law enforcement agency was being asked to probe a rail accident. In 2016, the then railways minister had asked the National Investigation Agency to investigate the derailment of a train in Kanpur in which 150 people were killed.
“Subsequently, you yourself claimed in an election rally in 2017 that there was a “conspiracy”. The nation was assured that the strictest punishment would be meted out. However, in 2018, the NIA closed the investigation and refused to file a chargesheet. The nation is still in the dark – who is responsible for 150 avoidable deaths?” Kharge asked.
“The statements so far and the roping in of yet another agency without the required expertise remind us of 2016. They show that your government has no intent to address the systemic safety malaise, but is instead finding diversionary tactics to derail any attempts to fix accountability,” he said.
“All the empty safety claims of the Railway Minister have now been exposed. There is serious concern among the common passengers about this deterioration in safety. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the government to ascertain and bring to light the real reasons that caused this grave accident. Today, the most crucial step is to prioritise installation of mandatory safety standards and equipment across railway routes to ensure safety of our passengers and no recurrence of an accident like the one at Balasore,” Kharge said.
Kharge added, “Instead of focusing on strengthening the railways at the basic level, only superficial touch-up is being done to stay in news.”
Kharge also pointed out that several government bodies have raised the issue of rail safety over the years. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, he said, had “criticised the complete apathy and negligence of the Railway Board towards recommendations of the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS) pulled up the Railway Board for not following safety procedures”.
“Why was the previous government’s plans to roll out the anti-train-collision system, originally named Raksha Kavach, put on the back burner? Your government simply renamed the scheme ‘Kavach’ and in March 2022, the Railway Minister himself projected the rechristened scheme as a new novel invention. But the question still remains, why have only a measly 4 per cent of routes of Indian Railways been protected by ‘Kavach’ till now?” he asked.