As the Indian Railways roped in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for a detailed investigation into the Odisha triple-train accident amid a growing Opposition clamour demanding the resignation of Union railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, accusations have been made by opposition leaders that the BJP-led Centre was trying to cover up the cause of the accident by shifting its responsibility by initiating a CBI probe.
Following the horrifying train crash in Odisha’s Balasore district last week, Vaishnaw was at ground zero to monitor the rescue and restoration efforts. He later announced that the Railway Board recommended a CBI probe after due consideration of the administration information.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee made a jarring allegation that pieces of evidence have already been removed before CBI reached the crash site.
Distributing ex gratia amount to the relatives of victims at a programme, Banerjee said that efforts were being made to suppress the facts of the accident. "What is CBI doing in this accident... Rather than investigating the train accident, CBI is going to several municipalities and urban development areas. Those who are responsible for this (accident), I want them to be punished," the Trinamool Congress supremo said. Banerjee has been critical of the central agencies on several occasions in the past.
On the other hand, Congress called the decision to hand over the probe to the CBI ‘headlines management’. In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said that the probe agency is meant to investigate crimes, not railway accidents. It cannot fix accountability for technical, institutional and political failures.
Taking a swipe at the government, party general secretary Jairam Ramesh said, "Even before the Commissioner of Railway Safety has submitted his report on Balasore train disaster, a CBI inquiry is announced."
Sharing past incidents where a central agency was pulled in by the government, Ramesh tweeted, "Ab yeh Chronology yaad kijiye – 1. Nov 20, 2016: Indore-Patna Express derails near Kanpur. Over 150 people lose their lives. 2. Jan 23, 2017: Then Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu writes to Union Home Minister asking for NIA probe into this accident.
"3. Feb 24, 2017: PM says Kanpur train accident is a conspiracy. 4. Oct 21, 2018: Newspapers report NIA will NOT file any chargesheet in the derailment. 5: June 6, 2023: Still no OFFICIAL news on NIA final report on Kanpur derailment. Zero accountability!" Ramesh said.
Congress leader Supriya Shrinate also accused the government saying it was simply shifting responsibility. “I don’t think this is CBI’s job; these answers need to be given by the present-day elected government. You (the government) are basically shifting the responsibility away from your doorstep,” Shrinate told PTI, further accusing the government of shrinking funds allocated for the railways.
Other opposition parties also accused the government of diverting the focus instead of taking accountability. “BJP government had said that the trains have ‘kavach’, but where did that ‘kavach’ go in Odisha,” Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav asked while addressing a public gathering.
Meanwhile, TMC leader Saket Gokhale tweeted, “Stunned & distressed to hear the tragic news of the Coromandel Express & Yashwantpur-Howrah train crash in Odisha. My fervent prayers for those affected & their families. As of now, the casualties stand at 233 dead & over 900 injured. That an alleged signalling failure led to 3 trains crashing is shocking beyond belief. There are serious questions which need answering.”
What Railways And Govt Say
Railway officials said that chances of human error was being probed. However, they have also indicated a possible "sabotage" and tampering with the electronic interlocking system, which detects the presence of trains, being the cause behind the accident. Subsequently, on Sunday, the Railway Board recommended the CBI probe, sending a 10-member CBI team to ground zero in Odisha.
The team inspected the tracks, signal room and talked to railway officials at Bahanaga Bazar station in Balasore district on Tuesday. A forensics team, accompanying the CBI officials, also spoke to signal room employees and sought information about the functioning of different equipment.
Earlier, railway minister Vaishnaw had said that the “root cause” behind the accident, as well as the “criminals” involved, were identified. Since the Railway Police, which was investigating the case so far, is not well-equipped to probe such “criminal” activities, the CBI was recommended to join.
The deadly crash involving Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express and Shalimar-Chennai Central Coromandel Express, which were carrying over 2,500 passengers, and a goods train laden with iron ore occurred around 7 PM on Friday near Bahanaga Bazar station in Balasore district of Odisha, about 250 km south of Kolkata and 170 km north of Bhubaneswar. As many as 21 coaches derailed and were severely damaged in the accident, trapping hundreds of passengers