It is distressing that despite instances of train accidents increasing, the Railway Ministry resorts to its lackadaisical attitude to absolve itself of any guilt. The Bangalore City-Nanded Express fire accident (Dec. 29) has been reported to be the fourth major train accident in Andhra Pradesh in a span of less than two years. Once again, it has become customary to announce an ex-gratia amount as compensation to those affected and hope that the matter will rest there. The Railways is guilty of looking away from the recommendations of the National Disaster Management Authority.
For an average Indian, the sorry state of our train coaches needs no elaboration. Maybe that is the reason why the accident, though tragic, comes as no surprise. Recently in Latvia, its Prime Minister resigned, taking moral responsibility after a supermarket collapse which killed 54 people. But in our country it is business as usual.
The Railways has yet to accept the golden saying, “Prevention is better than cure.” In this connection I recollect two slogans written on road barricades: “Donate your blood, but not to the road” and “Some accidents happen, some are invited.” When we take pride in the fact that our railways is one of the largest global rail networks, it is essential that we are able to run services without accidents. Ordering high-level probes and commissions of inquiry are akin to a routine post-mortem.
Members of my family and I recently travelled to Rameswaram and back in an air-conditioned coach. One of us remained awake in case of any trouble, recollecting Couplet 435 in Thirukkural: “Who fails to guard himself from flaw, Loses his life like a flame-lit straw.”
The coach attendant and the TTE were nowhere to be seen. The coach had visible defects. Discreet inquiries with railway staff revealed that most maintenance had been entrusted to contractors, who employ unskilled and cheap labour. The technology used in coaches must also be upgraded. Lighting systems and their control is very poor. Let me quote also Couplet 436 in Thirukkural: “What fault can be the King’s who cures first his Faults, then scans others.”
It is tragic that even air-conditioned coaches are poorly maintained. I am a frequent rail passenger and often find, apart from vermin like rats, bedbugs and cockroaches, repairs to electrical fittings being done in certain non-standard ways. Even the basic coach design is faulty from the point of safety. The Railways should consider removing all side berths, which will leave a corridor free of any obstruction. The loss of revenue can be made up by hiking fares.
As an NRI, this accident will become an all-too-familiar story which the western media will use to attack India with — the casual attitude and a lack of regard for life. In Australia, for example, if a person is lost on a raft mid-ocean, it immediately becomes cause for sincere concern and the whole nation rivets its attention to see how he or she can be saved, with public money spent willingly on this. If soldiers lose their lives in combat overseas, the nation pays homage in a touching manner. Where is such concern in India or even reports by the media? What is the matter with the people and the government here?
Keywords: Bangalore-Nanded train accident