Tuesday, June 3, 2014

By dusting open reports, Gowda can tackle the issue of Railway ‘safety’ with ‘speed’

The new railway minister D V Sadananda Gowda has identified safety as the top most priority. He is neither the first nor would be the last railway minister to pick safety as the key agenda.

Gowda though has a chance to quickly make a difference should he choose not to reinvent the wheel but instead do what his predecessors did not do. That is to dust off plethora of expert recommendations on safety already available with the government.

Be it the report by Anil Kakodkar Committee in 2012 or by Rakesh Mohan Committee in 2001, the new minister can give respite to more than 8,900 million passengers who travel annually in the country by simply executing the valid recommendations.

In his election campaigns, Narendra Modi had expressed concern over the neglect of India’s railways and promised an overhaul of the network.

On the day of Modi’s swearing in ceremony, a passenger train in Uttar Pradesh rammed into a stationary freight train at a station in the morning, killing 26 and injuring 44.

To help Gowda navigate the two detailed reports, Zee Research Group (ZRG) has identified the short and medium term agenda for action on safety.

On March 12, 2012, a High Level Safety Review Committee headed by Dr Anil Kakodkar, famous Indian nuclear scientist had recommended setting up of a statutory Railway Safety Authority (RSA) and a safety architecture that is powerful enough to have a safety oversight on the operational mode of Indian Railways without detaching safety with the railway operations.

E Sreedharan, former MD of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) acted as an advisor to the panel. Sreedharan is the man the government is widely believed to be keen to rope in as an advisor. He might well be tasked to put to life his own recommendation.

A little over two years after the publication of the Indian Railways’ Vision 2020 document which aimed at catapulting the Indian Railways (IR) into the forefront of world railways, the Kakodkar Committee on railway safety published its report, with plans that require an outlay of Rs. 1 lakh crore.

Indian Railways’ Vision 2020 & White Paper presented unprecedented thrust on safety issues. The document envisaged an annual outlay of Rs.1.4 lakh crore over a decade with an estimated annual gross budgetary support (GBS) of Rs.50, 000 crore by the Central government.

Immediately after the Kakodkar Committee report, the Sam Pitroda Committee had submitted its plans for the modernization of Indian Railways at a cost of Rs.5.6 lakh crore. Sam Pitroda had talked about including a safety cess on passengers.

The Kakodkar Committee's recommendation had suggested an organizational change in the Railway Board for creating a more responsive and effective “ecosystem” for safety on the Railways.

The Indian Railways Report (2001), better known as the Rakesh Mohan Committee Report, had talked about these changes, but there was no implementation.

However, contrary to the fate of most committee reports, the recommendations of the Justice H R Khanna Committee, set up in 1997 were taken seriously and followed up to a large extent. The Special Railway Safety Fund (SRSF) of Rs.17, 000 crore set up in 2001 and the Corporate Safety Plan 2003-2013 (CSP) unveiled in August 2003 arose out of the recommendations of the Khanna Committee.

Senior retired Railway officials argue that with each change of government at the Centre or the Minister, there is a tendency to view with suspicion, if not outright contempt and ridicule, the policies of the previous regime and to reverse them.

As reported by ZRG earlier, serious concern over safety issues in Indian Railways can be clearly due to non acceptance of recommendations prescribed by various committees and dual command approach for Commission of Railway Safety (CRS).

According to a report by the railways published in 2012, nearly 14,376 people had died on the tracks in 2009, followed by 12,894 deaths in 2010 and 14,611 in the following year. And the railway board predicted that in the last three years about 50,000 people must have lost their lives.

Talking about rail safety, metro man Sreedharan said in a signed piece in 2012, “Today, I am not confident of sending my family on a train given the number of accidents. So, improving safety of the railways is a very urgent necessity.”


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