Kharge slams Modi Government for railway ‘negligence’ following Bengal train accident

Kharge’s sharp critique comes as the Congress party demands accountability for the incident and broader issues within the Indian Railways.

| Updated: 18 June, 2024 8:54 pm IST

NEW DELHI: Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge has raised serious allegations of “criminal negligence” against the Narendra Modi government in the wake of a tragic train accident in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district that resulted in ten fatalities and numerous injuries.

Kharge’s sharp critique comes as the Congress party demands accountability for the incident and broader issues within the Indian Railways.

Kharge posed seven pointed questions to the government, highlighting a series of systemic failures and policy missteps. Central to his critique is the failure to implement the much-touted Kavach anti-collision system, despite a significant accident in Balasore previously underscoring its necessity. “Why, after the Balasore accident, has not a single kilometre of the Kavach system been added?” Kharge questioned.

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The Congress president also drew attention to the chronic understaffing within the Railways, citing nearly 300,000 vacant posts that have remained unfilled over the past decade. “The Railway Board itself has admitted that long working hours of loco pilots due to acute manpower shortages are the main reason for the increasing number of accidents. Why were these posts not filled?” he asked.

Kharge referenced a National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report indicating that 100,000 people died in rail accidents between 2017 and 2021. “Who will take responsibility for these fatalities?” he demanded.

Further criticism was directed at the Railway Board for neglecting the recommendations of the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS). “The Parliamentary Standing Committee has criticized the Railways for the neglect shown by the Railway Board towards the CRS’s recommendations. Why was the CRS not strengthened?” Kharge inquired.

Financial mismanagement within the Railways was another focal point. Kharge noted that funding for the ‘Rashtriya Rail Suraksha Kosh’ had been slashed by 75%, with the funds allegedly being misallocated. “Why is this money being used by railway officials on unnecessary expenses and comfort facilities?” he asked.

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Kharge also condemned the increased cost of Sleeper Class travel and the reduction in sleeper coaches, leading to overcrowding and ticket cancellations. “Last year, 2.7 crore people had to cancel their tickets due to a shortage of seats, a direct result of the Modi government’s policy to reduce coaches,” he stated.

The Congress leader accused the government of merging the Railway Budget with the General Budget to evade accountability. “Whenever there is a train accident, the Modi Government’s Railway Minister reaches the spot under the glare of cameras and behaves as if everything is fine. Narendra Modi ji, tell us who should be held accountable, the Railway Minister or you?”

Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate reinforced Kharge’s points at a press conference, showing images of the recent Darjeeling accident and the earlier Balasore tragedy. She noted that there have been 1,117 railway accidents since 2014, averaging one every three days. “Who is going to take moral responsibility for this? We have seen railway ministers in the past own up to moral responsibility and resign. But here, we have a minister who does not miss an opportunity even in times of tragedy to make reels,” she said.

Shrinate called for the resignation of Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, emphasising the need for accountability and safety in railway operations. “Without a doubt, Ashwini Vaishnaw has no moral authority to remain in his position,” she asserted.

The recent collision near Rangapani, 30 kilometres from New Jalpaiguri station in Siliguri, involved a goods train crashing into the stationary Sealdah-bound Kanchanjunga Express. Among the deceased was a six-year-old girl who succumbed to critical injuries.

Kharge concluded his statement by condemning the Modi government’s record on rail safety, asserting, “Self-glorification will not undo the criminal negligence perpetrated by the Modi government on the Indian Railways. Accountability needs to be fixed at the top.”

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