Activist and journalist Sucheta Dalal (@suchetadalal) tweeted a video showing a Indian Railways (IR) engine with a faulty roof such that water was leaking down into the engine compartment.
The Railways employees were forced to cover the floor with newspapers and keep their bags on the counter because of lack of space. The driver is seen literally holding an umbrella over his head whilst driving the train to cover himself from the leaks.
The person speaking in the video can be heard saying, “This has been happening for years now and no steps have been taken to fix it.”
“Railway safety? @sureshpprabhu and @RailMinIndia need to take a serious look without victimising whistleblower” Dalal tweeted.
Other Twitter users remarked that such problems are troublingly commonplace and also shared concerns that the whistleblower in this case could lost their job or be penalised in some way or the other.
Infrastructural development much needed
Indian Railways have come a long way since the first passenger train service began on 16th April 1853, when 14 railway carriages carrying about 400 guests left Bori Bunder (Mumbai) at 3.30 pm “amidst the loud applause of a vast multitude and to the salute of 21 guns”.
More than anything the Railways typifies the vast, creaking and dilapidated nature of India’s infrastructure. At the root of this is that the IR hardly earns enough to pay for itself, let alone invest in modernisation and safety. The IR is cash strapped mainly due to the recurring losses in the passenger segment of its operations. Last year it lost Rs. 30,000 crores ($5 billion). The loss per passenger-km increased to Rs. 0.23. After adjusting the income it takes from freight, the railways is left with a surplus cash of just Rs. 690 crores ($115mn).
Its top managers have frequently red signaled the crisis. A top official said: “In the final analysis, the performance of the organization would be just at the bottom line and unless we are in a position to control the expenditure and increase the earnings on a sustained basis, survival for the organization becomes a very difficult proposition.”
But the railways get by every year with huge dollops of government funding and increasingly by postponing vital investments. For instance important decisions such as the filling of tens of thousands of safety-related posts such as gangmen, pointsmen, signalmen and assistant station masters keeps getting postponed. The consequences of this are seen in the burgeoning incidence of railways related accidents and deaths.
Since 2000 there have been 89 major accidents and almost two thirds of them since 2010. It is estimated is that almost 15,000 people die on tracks due to unlawful trespassing on tracks every year of which about 6,000 are on the Mumbai suburban section. According to the Home Ministry records, 25,006 people died and 3,882 were injured in a total of 28,360 railway accidents across the country in 2014 alone.
Shouldn’t the focus be on modernising and upgrading the entire system?
The Logical Indian community requests Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu to see to it that the engine in the video is fixed and similar anomalies are fixed as soon as possible. The Railways is an indispensable component of everyday Indian life and caters to millions every day. It is important that the Indian Railways remain efficient and up-to-the-mark.