BJP has hit out at opposition parties over their allegations and questions (File)
Escalating a political row over the massive three-train crash in Odisha in which 275 were killed on Friday, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge today wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging that many red flags were ignored and there were only "superficial touch-ups" instead of any real action to strengthen the railways.
The ruling BJP has hit out at opposition parties over their allegations and questions, with Union Minister Anurag Thakur saying on Sunday: "Nobody should play politics over such tragic incidents. This is the time for everyone to stand with the families of the victims who have lost so much."
In a four-page letter, Mallikarjun Kharge, a former Railways Minister, highlighted the vacancies in the Railways, and alleged flaws in the signaling system and lapses in safety. Earlier, party leader Rahul Gandhi had also called for accountability after the tragedy and said the Prime Minister "should immediately seek the resignation of the Railways Minister (Ashwini Vaishnaw)".
Mr Kharge wrote in his letter: "The train accident in Odisha has been an eye opener for all of us. All the empty safety claims of the Railway Minister have now been exposed."
He also slammed moves like merging the Railways Budget with the Union Budget, questioning whether this was done to undermine the autonomy of the railways to "push reckless privatization".
"Unfortunately, the people in charge - your goodself and Railway Minister Ashwani Vaishnav - do not want to admit that there are problems. The Railways Minister claims to have already found a root cause, but has requested the CBI to investigate. The CBI is meant to investigate crimes, not railway accidents. The CBI, or any other law enforcement agency, cannot fix accountability for technical, institutional and political failures. In addition, they lack the technical expertise in railway safety, signaling, and maintenance practices," wrote the Congress chief.
Mr Kharge said three lakh posts were vacant in the Railways and in the East Coast Railways - which oversees the region where the crash took place - there were more than 8,000 vacancies. "It's the same story of apathy and negligence even in the case of senior positions, where both the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) and the Cabinet Committee play a crucial role in appointments," he said.
He also cited a report of the national auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which said between 2017-18 to 2020-21, seven of 10 train accidents were due to derailments. "Between 2017-21, there was zero testing of Rail and Weld (Track Maintenance) for safety in East Coast Railway. Why were these grave red flags ignored?"
The Congress president questioned why there was no action on the previous UPA government's plan to roll out the anti-train collision system, originally named "Raksha Kavach", which was developed by Konkan Railways and tested. "Your government simply renamed the scheme 'Kavach' and in March 2022, the Railway Minister himself projected the rechristened scheme as a new novel invention. But the question still remains, why have only a measly 4% of routes of Indian Railways been protected by 'Kavach' till now?" Mr Kharge demanded to know.
"Today, the most crucial step is to prioritise the installation of mandatory safety standards and equipment across railway routes to ensure safety of our passengers and no recurrence of an accident like the one at Balasore," he stated.