"Make Rly. safety commissioners' selection broadbased"

NEW DELHI, NOV. 1. In a suggestion that holds the potential of changing the way railway accidents are investigated, the Justice H.R.Khanna Committee has recommended that the Commissioners of Railway Safety (CRS) from all disciplines associated with train operations be selected from railwaymen. At present, only railway civil engineers are posted as the CRS.

Railways has nine CRS in as many zones and a Chief Commissioner headquartered in Lucknow. The CRS are entrusted with the crucial job of investigating accidents. Till now, the practice has been to post personnel from the railway civil engineering discipline as CRS and it has continued till date without any major hiccups.

When the Justice Khanna Committee undertook a review of railway safety, it came up with the suggestion in Part II of its report in February this year that railwaymen from other disciplines directly associated with operations such as Mechanical, Traffic, Signal and Electrical, should also be eligible for being posted.

The Part II of the Khanna Committee Report is now under examination of the Railway Ministry and the Railway Board. At its meeting held here last week, the Railway Board is said to have turned down the suggestion of making the CRS broad-based and including railway personnel from other disciplines for being posted as CRS.

Given the variety of operations involved in operations of passenger and freight trains on one of the largest rail networks in the world, it would appear logical to make the office of the CRS a broad-based, multi-disciplinary body.

However, well-placed sources in the Ministry said the Board had approved another recommendation of the Committee that seeks to upgrade the rank of the Chief Commissioner to that of Secretary to the Government and the CRS to the rank of Special Secretaries.

The Railway Board move to agree to upgrade but reject the proposal to broadbase the CRS had reportedly caused heartburn in the Railways as personnel from other discipline feel ``left out.''

The comments and approvals of the Railway Board on Part II of the Report have now been sent for the final approval of the Railways Minister, Mr. Nitish Kumar. It would be left to wisdom of a reformist Minister in the Rail Bhavan if he is able to cut through the departmental interests and push the Khanna Committee recommendations on the track for implementation.

The Committee also recommended that ``finalisation, conclusions and recommendations of serious accident inquiry reports should be adopted after discussions in a Board consisting of at least two Commissioners, preferably with different professional backgrounds.''

Over the past decade or so, the office of the CRS, though out of the ambit of the Railway Ministry, has seen its credibility getting eroded.

In the recent past, three major passenger train accidents in Khanna (Punjab), Firozabad (Uttar.Pradesh) and Gaisal (West Bengal), were referred for judicial probe. Though after the independence till 1995 only one train accident had been referred for judicial probe.

Sources recalled that derailment of a superfast Shatabdi Express train in Baroda division had been blamed to lack of oil in dashpot despite obvious defects on the track. So much for the independence and unbiased reports of the CRS. A train accident in Kerala was blamed on cyclone without even relying upon the weather report.

The number of train accidents increased from 397 during 1998-99 to 463 during 1999-2000 though universally accepted safety index dropped from 5.5 in 1960-61 to 0.65 in 1999-2000 as officially stated by the Railways.

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