Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying law enforcement agencies including CBI cannot fix accountability for technical, institutional and political failures.
Congress reaction comes a day after Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the Railway Board had decided to seek a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the Odisha train accident, in which 275 people were killed and over 1,000 injured.
“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 in his four-page letter, mentioned The Indian Express report.
He said it was unfortunate that “the people in charge – your goodself and Railway Minister Ashwani Vaishnav – do not want to admit that there are problems”, the report said.
“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,” he said, as per the report.
“The Railway Minister claims to have already found a root cause, but yet has requested the CBI to investigate,” Kharge said, mentioned the report.
Kharge argued that 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, it said.
“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 report said.
“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, as per the report.
“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,” he said, the report 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.”
“Instead of making the railways more effective, more advanced, and more efficient, it is instead being meted out with step-motherly treatment. Meanwhile, consistently flawed decision-making has made travelling by rail unsafe and has in turn compounded the problems of our people,” he said.
In his letter, Kharge posed 11 questions to Prime Minister Modi. He pointed out that about 3 lakh posts are lying vacant in Indian Railways.
“In fact, in the East Coast Railway – the site of this tragic accident – about 8,278 posts are vacant. It’s the same story of apathy and negligence even in the case of senior positions, where both the PMO and the Cabinet Committee play a crucial role in appointments. There were more than 18 lakh railway employees in the decade of the nineties, which have now been reduced to about 12 lakh, of which, 3.18 lakh are employed on contractual basis. Vacant posts pose a threat to the assured jobs of people who belong to SC / ST / OBC and EWS. It’s a pertinent question to ask – why have such high number of vacancies not been filled over the last 9 years?” he asked, the report said.
“Loco pilots are crucial to safety and their overburden is proving to be the main cause of accidents. Why have their positions not been filled yet?” he asked, the report said.