The Utkal Express derailment

Centre takes Railway Board by surprise

Strong message: The wreckage of a Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express coach after its derailment on August 20, 2017.

Strong message: The wreckage of a Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express coach after its derailment on August 20, 2017.   | Photo Credit: AFP

The Railway Ministry’s decision to send Railway Board Member (Engineering) Aditya Mittal on leave after finding lapses in the maintenance procedures that led to the derailment of the Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express has come as a surprise to the Board.

Some top officials find the action a “bit too harsh”. “It’s not the job of bureaucrats to take moral responsibility. In that case, everyone till the highest level has to take some moral responsibility,” said a member, who did not wish to be named.

Responsibility levels

“In a government set-up, the responsibility levels are clearly laid down. The divisional engineer and senior divisional engineer of the railway section are responsible and to some extent, their supervisors in the division,” the official said.

It was one of the rare instances when action has been taken against a Railway Board Member, who is a Secretary-level officer, for a train accident. Mr. Mittal is a 1978-batch Indian Railway Services of Engineers officer, who will retire this month. “I respect the view of the government,” he said.

A former Railway Board Chairman said the move might prove to be counter-productive and affect decision-making.

“The Railway Minister has tried to send a strong message that safety is a top priority. However, taking action against the Board members can prove counter-productive,” former Railway Board Chairman Vivek Sahai said. “The move may demoralise the officers and they may take recourse to restrictive methods, jeopardising the mobility of the system. It is not clear how the responsibility has been fixed.”

On Sunday, the Railway Ministry sent three top officials on leave, suspended four local-level officials and transferred another official after prima facie finding lapses in the maintenance work near the Khatauli railway station in Uttar Pradesh where the accident took place.

General Manager, Northern Railway, R.N. Kulshrestha, and Divisional Railway Manager, Delhi, R.N. Singh were also sent on leave. The divisional engineer and senior divisional engineer of the railway section were suspended, while the central track engineer of Northern Railway was transferred.

1997 precedent

Railway Ministry officials said it was in 1997 that the government had taken action against senior-level officials for a rail accident. Back then, the general managers of the Central and South Eastern Railways were removed from their posts only to be rehabilitated in some other division as general managers in a few days. The move came after human negligence caused a major rail accident in Haryana and another in Madhya Pradesh.

Removed from post

In October 1971, Railway Board Chairman B.C. Ganguli was removed from his post following differences with Railway Minister K. Hanumanthaiah. In 1980, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi signed an order to sack the entire Railway Board for non-performance.

As per the Railways’ preliminary inquiry into the recent accident, welding work of the track joints was under way near the Khatauli station, leaving a portion of the track without rails when the Utkal Express arrived. No permission was taken by the Engineering Department for conducting the track maintenance which was routine in nature, senior Ministry officials said.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 6:25:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/centre-takes-railway-board-by-surprise/article19535536.ece

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