Andher Nagari: Mamta must own up responsibility for so many deaths

Plum post for allies, but 1 lakh safety-related jobs unfilled

Mahendra Kumar Singh, TNN Jul 11, 2011, 01.49am IST


NEW DELHI: The accident in Fatehpur has once again turned the spotlight on safety-related vacancies in the railways, which have risen to around 1 lakh as on March 2010 even as the rail ministry languishes without full-time political leadership since May 2009.

The number of people killed on tracks touched 336 this year — between April 2010 to January 2011 — while 437 were injured. In 2009-10, 225 people died and 385 were injured against 209 deaths and 444 injured in 2008-09.

The crucial post of member (traffic) in Railway Board has been lying vacant for more than a year, along with a number of posts of general managers of zonal railways which are critical in handling train operations.

The nuts and bolts of railways was never the focus of Trinamool Congress chief and former rail minister Mamata Banerjee except when it came to leveraging the lucrative ministry to back her political aspirations in her home state of West Bengal.

Her predecessor Lalu Yadav was not hands on either but was around in office and at least left it to the officialdom to run the railways. Banerjee went on an overdrive of ill-planned expansions with freight and passenger lines being increased manifold on the same tracks.

Sunday’s derailment of the Howrah-Kalka Mail near Fatehpur in UP which killed at least 38 people exposes the cost of a “part-time” minister who ran the show from Kolkata. Banerjee is still trying hard to maintain control over the ministry by nominating a party MP as minister.

The accident should increase Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s concern of having a political appointee without adequate ability to manage the ministry. Under pressure to manage numbers to run the UPA government during both its regimes, Congress leadership virtually mortgaged the key infrastructure ministry to coalition allies.

The accident happened virtually on the eve of the Cabinet reshuffle when finally the vacancy of rail minister is expected to be fulfilled. Since May, the ministry has no full-time Cabinet minister after Banerjee shifted to Bengal as chief minister.

Despite there been three ministers of state in railways, none of them, including Trinamool minister Mukul Roy, could reach the accident site soon enough. Railway Board chairman Vinay Mittal rushed to Fatehpur along with member (mechanical), member (electrical) and director general of health services. MoS K M Muniyappa managed to reach the site only by late evening.