Will Suresh Prabhu's resignation solve the problem?
The two major railway accidents which happened...
The first incident involving the derailment of the Haridwar Kalinga Utkal Express in Khatauli, Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh took place on August 19. The accident has left about 23 dead and 70 injured.
The second incident came four days later where the Kafiyat Express derialed between Pata and Achalda railway stations, leaving 70 people injured.
Railways has always been Prime Minister Modi's pet ministry and in the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections, Modi had suggested improvements in rail facilities using this as a major poll plank. So, hours after the Kaifiyat Express collided with a dumpster in Uttar Pradesh, Railway Board chairman AK Mittal resigned, while railway minister Suresh Prabhu said he "accepted responsibility" for the mishaps. In less than four hours, Ashwini Lohani, who had been serving as Air India CMD, was asked to take over the chairmanship of the Railway Board, a clear indication to the fact that Modi is in no mood to allow soft peddling in the railways and wants a focused, hands-on approach to deal with the age-old problems there. (firstpost.com)
The Prime Minister's confidence in 2014, during his first Cabinet reshuffle while appointing Suresh Prabhu as the Railway Minister then had raised expectations and it was believed that Prabhu would script the biggest ever modernisation and turnaround history in passenger and freight support. A very social media savvy minister and one who came across as a person who would provide workable solutions, including arranging baby products and healthcare on trains, his performance on far too many fronts was found wanting. (firstpost.com)
Taking charge of Indian Railways, the new Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani said his focus will be on safety. He added that he will also try to maintain cleanliness at railway premises and on upkeep of stations. (punemirror.indiatimes.com)
Are the Railways really a priority?
A new set of changes were introduced both in the kind of trains and facilities to be provided inside them under Prabhu.
Deen Dayalu and Atyodaya trains came as a boost for passengers without reservations. Deen Dayalu coaches have the feature of being attachable to any train. The Antyodaya was, on the other hand, brought in for unreserved travellers carrying no extra costs. The coaches are equipped with water purifiers, theft protection system and equipment, coat hooks and luggage racks which are cushioned, LED lights etc. (indianexpress.com)
The Humsafar Express was a move to improve AC-3-tier travel. The train's features include vibrant colourful interiors, odour control systems, information system linked to onboard GPS, CCTV surveillance system, fire and smoke detection system and a specialised security control system. (indianexpress.com)
Gatimaan Express, a kind of semi high speed train were started that run at a maximums speed of 160 km/h.
India and Japan are jointly developing the Bullet Train network in India. The first line is being developed between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Soil Testing and terrain mapping is currently being done and the Railways plans to complete its Diamond Quadrilateral programme in due time connecting (indianexpress.com)
Railway Insurance was being seen as a major step to improve security and ensure safe travel for people travelling in the trains. The optional travel insurance facility was also introduced at the time of booking. The cover extends up to Rs 10 lakh while it provided a partial disability insurance of Rs 7.5 lakh. It also provided a hospitalisation cover of up to Rs 2 lakh. (indianexpress.com)
All these measures are meaningless if the basic security of passengers is not ensured. With every political party promising to improve the condition of the Indian Railways, the sector has hardly seen any changes.
The long-pending technology upgrade plans such as the installation of Train Collision Avoidance Systems or the Anti-Collision Devices have not moved forward. Rolling stock are antiquated; signalling systems are obsolete; track renewal targets have been lagging behind — and the transporter is also hobbled by the issue of underinvestment. (hindustantimes.com)
Railway expenditure as a percentage of transport sector expenditure was placed at 56% in the Seventh Plan (1985-1990), but reduced to 30% in the Eleventh Plan (2007-2012). In the last two decades, the share of the Indian Railways in overall GDP had been static at 1%, further reducing to 0.9% in 2012-2013. (hindustantimes.com)
The NDA government's quest to provide for a modern and efficient transportation system matching global standards is commendable; but age-old practices and methods that have served the aim of passenger safety in the past cannot be entirely relied upon. (hindustantimes.com)
The Indian Railway which is Asia's largest rail network and boasts of over 115,000-km track line, ferrying over 2.3 million passengers every day needs to understand that it is not really the appointments and resignations that can help with the improvement but the creation of a successful railway management plan which can deal with the needs as well as ensure the safety of the passengers.