Wednesday, September 16, 2015

This is probably what you call shaken, not stirred. Soon after a series of rail mishaps in last few months have started questioning railway ministry's ambitions, the railway minister Suresh Prabhu is keeping no stones unturned to make Indian Railways safer.

In an attempt to make railways safer, his ministry has approached the finance ministry for Rs 1 lakh crore as Special Railway Safety Fund (SRSF) and launch a Zero Accident Mission. Unable to raise funds from internal resources, the railways has sought help from government to undertake basic safety-related works. Chairman Railway Board AK Mittal has confirmed that the proposal for finance ministry was being finalised.

If the Railways is granted the amount, this would be the second time for the organisation to get special funds from the Centre to improve safety. In 2001, then Railway Minister Nitish Kumar had gotRs 17,000 crore as non-lapsable SRSF.

SRSF was mainly used to renew signalling system, track renewals and for rehabilitation of bridges.

During earlier regimes, not increasing the fare to appease the voters was one of the best strategies adapted by political parties. Critics have always blamed low passenger fare as a reason for poor condition of railways. Ever since the NDA has come to power, the railway fares have been revised quite a few times. However railway safety is not yet foolproof, which calls for a proper addressing on the issue by the minister.

Being firm on the ground of safety, Prabhu in his meeting with all Railway Board members and 17 general managers (GMs) yesterday has warned that they would be held accountable for any mishap and no excuses for lapses would be tolerated. He had summoned all the zonal heads to discuss safety issues. One of the GMs, who attended the meeting, told The Economic Times that the minister was extremely agitated.

Prabhu has said in the meeting that he is the one answerable to the people, the media and above all the PM if any mishaps happen. The minister mentioned that he has delegated powers and decentralised decision-making at the level of GMs and divisional railway managers (DRMs). "But with this empowerment should come greater responsibility," he told them. While analysing the causes of the recent accidents, the minister and the officers reached the conclusion that unless money was put into improving the basic infrastructure, safety would continue to be a casualty.

Mittal has said that Rs 40,000 crore was needed to remove unmanned crossings by building road under bridges and road over bridges, Rs 40,000 crore for track renewal and Rs 5,000 crore for strengthening bridges.

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