Last week’s train derailment in Uttar Pradesh was India’s ‘deadliest train tragedy’ since 2010 and has renewed concern about poor safety on the state-run network, a lifeline for millions that has suffered from chronic underinvestment. It is a matter of deep concern that four years after the Kakodkar Committee issued its report on rail safety, most of its recommendations remain unimplemented. If its recommendations relating to passenger safety had been implemented, it is possible that the mishap could have been averted or its deadly impact minimised in terms of loss of lives. The recent tragedy in the railways requires introspection. But what is deplorable is the approach taken by railway officials who are supposed to ensure safe and comfortable travel of passengers. Not only is their attitude towards such accidents casual, the reasons they cite are bewildering. Technology alone can’t ensure safety. It is ultimately human intervention and a human approach, which can ensure safety. The lack of resources and a rigid mindset of successive governments have held back any meaningful reform in the system that carries about 23 million passengers on a daily basis.
Should bullet trains be a priority for the Ministry of Railways and for the government or the needs of millions of daily passengers? It is time to run the railways to be run like a proper transport utility. It should be freed from political interference and have a continuous policy geared towards increasing operational efficiency. For real change, Indian Railways need to generate enough funds on its own for capital expenditure and also find new, non-government sources of funding. But that can only happen if Railways is run as an efficient corporation with a healthy balance sheet that can be leveraged to raise debt. As ‘Good Governance’ is not just something to be read in books, rather it is something to be felt and experienced by people by improving the public service delivery. The shake-up of the Indian Railways is, in fact, a measure no less than the passage of the GST bill.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)