The Supreme Court on Friday sought response from the Centre and Railways on the allegation that use of sub-standard materials for furnishing interiors of coaches has caused asphyxiation deaths due to inhalation of toxic gases by passengers during fire accidents in trains.

The court also issued notices to concerned departments of Railways -- Railway Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO), Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES) Ltd, two Rail Coach Factories of Kapurthala in Punjab and Lalganj, Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh and Integral Coach Factory, Chennai.

They have also been asked to respond to the allegation that the supply of sub-standard materials for train coaches was due to existence of a “nexus” between cartel of vendors and officials.

“We will examine the issues but we cannot stay now (the supply of materials),” a bench comprising Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi said while appreciating Delhi-based advocate Abhay Singh for raising the issue of fire safety in trains in his PIL.

“You raised a very important issue,” the bench observed while asking the Centre, Railways and its departments to file their replies within four weeks.

In his oral submission, the petitioner alleged corruption involving “nexus” between the suppliers and officials.

At the outset, the advocate said the PIL raises issues relating to the death of several people due to fire accidents in trains, which are happening time and again. He cited statistics of recent fire accidents in trains where a large number of passengers lost their lives.

“These deaths are caused due to asphyxiation by inhalation of toxic gases, engulfing the Railways’ passenger coaches. This toxicity is caused from poisonous gases released by the inferior and sub-standard quality of the materials used by the Indian Railways in the interior furnishings, which are all around the passengers,” the petition claimed.

“The matter needs to be investigated and resolved at the earliest as the hapless passengers are being subjected to risking their lives while travelling in trains run by the Government of India, funded by the tax payers’ money and is considered as a safe and affordable mode of travel,” the petition said.

The petitioner sought several directions including that sub-standard materials be collected from the railway coaches and be treated by approved laboratory in presence of independent parties and the materials presently used in cushions, cushion covers, curtains, flooring and wood partitioning be banned.

The PIL said the court should direct Railways to replace the faulty material in all coaches presently in service and be tested for conformance of Fire and Safety standards.

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