Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fund cuts, at the cost of rail safety
NEW DELHI, May 1, 2011
Even as the Arunima incident has rattled the Railways, a series of other mishaps has posed a question mark over the safety of high-end trains, putting officials in a fix.
First, a Rajdhani Express caught fire and the engines of two other express trains were gutted.
In all the three incidents, passengers had a miraculous escape.
On the heels of these mishaps, came the detection of three bombs aboard another Rajdhani Express.
Due to a mechanical problem, the wheels of a coach of the superfast Shatabdi Express got jammed.
In another train, the brakes failed. In addition, some derailments have been reported.
The incidents, which occurred in quick succession, have shocked the passengers and the Railway Board, according to railway sources.
These have exposed not only the poor upkeep of trains but also the lax attitude of senior officials to maintenance and passenger safety.
If passengers escaped without much of injury in all these incidents it was because of the alert ground and running staff.
Two AC coaches and the pantry car of the Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani Express caught fire at Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh on April 18.
The following day, the engine of the Bolangir-Bhubaneswar Inter-city Express caught fire at Cheruppali in Orissa.
On April 24, the engine of the Rajendranagar-Lokmanya Tilak Express caught fire at Kalyan, Mumbai.
On April 20, the wheels of a coach of the Amritsar Swarna Shatabdi Express got jammed at Taraori in Karnal district of Haryana.
But the alert driver brought the superfast train to a halt without causing much distress to the passengers. The coach, however, had to be replaced.
Again on April 24, the driver of the Jaipur-Secunderabad Express was shocked to find the regular brakes non-functional, that too when the train was running on a gradient.
He applied the emergency brakes and stopped the train in the Midghat section near Bhopal.
Earlier, on the night of April 11, Arunima Sinha alias Sonu, 23, was pushed out of the speeding Padmavati Express in Bareilly by three men, who tried to snatch her gold chain.
The national-level volleyball player from Uttar Pradesh lost one of her lower limbs.
Railway authorities admit that the attempt to prevent the Railways from being projected as a loss-making organisation has come at the cost of meeting depreciation and taking safety measures. Funds have been curtailed over the past two years under UPA II.
Lest the Railways go in the red during 2010-11, appropriation to the depreciation reserve fund was revised downwards by a whopping Rs. 1,900 crore to Rs. 5,700 crore from the budget estimate of Rs 7,600 crore.
With the finances unlikely to be comfortable even during this financial year (2011-12), the estimated appropriation to the depreciation fund has been pegged at just Rs. 7,000 crore, which is Rs. 600 crore less than the estimated expenditure during the previous year.
About railway safety, the less said the better. No money has been allocated during the past two years.
Allocation even under the capital development fund has been axed.
It was slashed down by Rs. 442 crore to Rs. 2,358 crore from the budget provision of Rs. 2,800 crore during 2010-11.
It is no surprise that even for 2011-12 the provision is only Rs. 2,400 crore.
Highly placed government and planning officials are critical of the functioning of the Railways and said these fund reduction measures are perilous to the organisation and the lives of unsuspecting passengers.
Despite a suggestion by a parliamentary panel, the Railways failed to put in place a mechanism to oversee repairs and maintenance. This too is said to have had its impact.


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