Safety Review Committee highlights Railways' ‘grim financial condition'

The Railways will need at least Rs. 1 lakh crore over the next five years to address all serious concerns relating to safety of passengers and safe running of trains, the funding of which appears unclear as of now.

The High Level Safety Review Committee, headed by Anil Kakodkar, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, has in its report made 106 recommendations to bring about drastic technical and technological improvements for the safe running of train services and proposed a mode to fund the proposed Rs. 1 lakh crore programme.

However, Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi refused to adopt the proposal and said the Railways would find a method to generate resources required to implement the schemes considered necessary to execute.

The committee proposed levying safety cess on passengers to mobilise Rs. 5,000 crore annually for the next five years, a like grant from the Centre, deferment of dividend of like amount, levying road cess to earn Rs. 1000 crore and collect about Rs. 4000 crore from the land available with the Railways. That works out to Rs. 20,000 crore a year.

But Mr. Trivedi said that if the Centre was unwilling to provide budgetary support, he would not give in and the Railways would beg, borrow and generate its own resources. He was also unwilling to commit himself on imposing a safety cess or hiking fares to mobilise resources, adding that there were several ways of achieving the goal — like developing the railway stations and real estate.

“If I cannot deliver, I'm not doing my part of duty. I should be seen to be trying to do my job. If I cannot deliver, then why [should I] be here,” Mr. Trivedi asked.

He is, of course, putting pressure on the Centre to provide the necessary funds and waive payment of dividend, apart from calling for party chief Mamata Banerjee's immediate attention to the grim situation.

The report pointed out that the inferior performance of the Railways was largely due to poor infrastructure and resources, lack of empowerment at the lower levels and tight and cumbersome procedures. In bold letters, it underlined the “grim financial condition” gripping the Railways.

The report said the derailment of the Kalka Mail near Fatehpur on July 10 last year, resulting in the death of 71 passengers and injuring 264, “raised an alarm over the safety standards and practices adopted by the Indian Railways.”

It has proposed elimination of all level crossings — both manned and unmanned —through construction of subways, and road over-bridges within 5 years at an estimated cost of Rs. 50000 crore, introduction of advance signalling system for 19,000 route km at an estimated cost of Rs. 20,000 crore, induction of new LHB design coaches at an estimated cost of Rs. 10,000 crore and setting up of maintenance and safety related infrastructure at a cost of Rs. 10,000 crore.

The committee also proposed setting up an independent Railway Safety Authority, bring the institution of Commissioners of Railway Safety under the Railways and a robust safety architecture and new research eco-system to plan for the future needs of the Railways.

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