Subramanian Swamy demanded railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw’s resignation last week in response to the deadly train disaster in Odisha, noting that Prime Minister Modi is paying the price. Swamy stated that the fast train that blew off the rails and collided with an approaching train should never have been allowed on those lines since they were designed for a slower train. He further stated that the railway minister should resign without waiting for approval from the Prime Minister.
Is the demand for resignation justified? Before knowing this, let’s understand on what grounds resignation can be demanded from such an officer under whom tenure the accident/incident occurred.
In such instances, resignation is demanded, not just for moral reasons. The resignation also guarantees that people in positions of power and culpability for the disaster do not influence such a “high-level investigation.” That is why it is customary for officials in the chain of command to be suspended and the minister to resign!
Now, why did the opposition, the great Indian Congress, demand resignation from the Railway Minister?
The blame is on PR gimmicks.
According to the Congress, Vaishnaw’s “PR gimmicks” camouflaged “serious deficiencies, criminal negligence, and complete disregard for safety and security” on Indian Railways.
The Modi government’s narcissistic sense of arrogance, incompetence, and sheer carelessness, according to Congress, was to blame for the Odisha train tragedy’s “man-made devastation.”
Vande Bharat Express trains have been flagged by PM Modi on a large scale. Senior Congress leaders said he was to blame for the Indian Railways’ “all is well” illusion while the organisation’s necessary, sensitive, and critical infrastructure remained neglected.
Why did the Modi administration not invest in improving rail safety despite repeated warnings from the CAG, parliamentary standing committees, and experts?
A CAG study from the previous year has raised new concerns only days after a tragic three-train crash that resulted in the deaths of 275 people and the injuries of over 1100 more. A decrease in the amount of money set aside for track renewal had been foreshadowed by the “Derailment in Indian Railways” study. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s report from 2022 touched on a number of concerns, including the underutilisation of a special railway budget for projects that should have been given priority.
The Congress representatives also questioned when the Modi administration would roll out the much-hyped KAVACH Anti-Collision System nationwide following testing. They demanded to know when the government will increase funding for the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) and fill the three lakh or so empty vacancies on the Indian Railways.
Now, after all these allegations, one needs to know whether the Congress claims are justified or they are just playing the political cards.
About the CAG report.
The Indian Railways should be replacing 4,500 km of railway tracks (out of a total length of 1,14,907 km) every year, according to standard maintenance guidelines. However, due to funding restrictions, the process has been steadily reducing during the last five years. The Standing Committee on Railways (2016-17) stated that the track renewal objectives set are not in accordance with the actual need on the ground.
According to the CAG report, just 3.01% of funds (or ₹20.74 crore) were used for track renewal on Western Railway in 2019-20 (out of a total expenditure of ₹689.90 crore). Meanwhile, due to a material supply difficulty, the whole track replacement operations of selected railway divisions failed to meet their aim from 2017-18 to 2019-2020.
The report also mentioned funding challenges, stating that allotment fell from 9,607.65 crore in 2018-19 to 7,417 crore in 2019-20. According to the research, many railway zones have surrendered cash over the last few years.
So, yes CAG report says that there were loopholes in the system that could have contributed to the train accident.
And about the PR Gimmicks.
Now one can say where the PR gimmicks are played by the MODI government or the Railway Minister. To answer these, check the Twitter account of the honourable Railway Minister and his aids, and consider their tweets after the accident. In brief, it includes the following.
- Railway Minister is continuously visiting the site.
- Railway Minister is tirelessly monitoring the situation.
- Railway Minister is sitting on the tracks and assessing the situation throughout the darkness of the night.
And many more.
Now you may ask, what’s the problem with that? There is nothing wrong with these tweets. But the doubt is, do we need these tweets? Visit the Twitter account of Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnav to see what footage he is posting from the scene. Then look at the tweets of IT Cell and their party members on how the Railway Minister’s glory is being overstated. Our issue is whether it is more important to be concerned about the Railway Minister’s diminished greatness now or to console the families of those whose homes were destroyed.
Is this relief over when the compensation sum is announced? We are not even implying that the victims are not being cared for, but based on what the minister tweets on his Twitter handle, it is clear that the whole emphasis is on the minister’s greatness. Minister works all hours of the day and night as he goes through all of the people’s sorrows.
In a manner, the pain of the families of those who perished in this disaster is not apparent; instead, the minister’s effort to work while sitting by the side of the railroad is visible all night. So that people may sympathise with him, he has a minister who has made a lot of effort. This is referred to as image management via media. Therefore we can say that, yes, there is still the presence of PR gimmicks done to cover the incident.
And if PR gimmicks are played now, they are supposed to be played earlier as well, to hide the faults of the CAG report, to over-hype the system of KAVACH, which has still not covered even the 50% of Indian railway tracks and many more.
Hence, it can be concluded that the resignation demanded by the opposition makes sense. Why Will lower or mid-level employees face the burden of blame, or will the individual who claims exclusive glory for the Vande Bharat trains also be held accountable for this flagrant disrespect for safety standards? If the investigation is ordered, it should start with upper management, who should take utter accountability for what has happened!
However, whosoever was being charged, resigned, blamed, punished or whatsoever, ultimately, it was the passengers on board that train who suffered the most. Some lost their lives, and some became disabled; some lost their dear ones and ultimately dealt with the lifelong trauma of the accident. In the last, it is the fate of the common man who suffers the most. God knows what is written in the following chapters of the so-called ‘Amrit Kaal’ or what unfolds in the book of ‘Acche Din’!
Proofread & Published By Naveenika Chauhan