The Congress has raised several questions on rail safety, pointing out that the BJP, in a 2016 accident, had hidden behind the sabotage theory without providing any proof.
In its first statement after the accident involving multiple trains in Odisha, the All India Congress Committee released a set of questions, from the non-installation of “Kavach” anti-collision technology and the large number of vacancies in the Railways, to the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General on accidents and lack of track maintenance. The government has sidestepped these questions.
On June 6, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh asked why the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had refused to file a charge sheet in the derailment of the Indore-Patna Express near Kanpur on November 20, 2016, which killed 150 people. He pointed out that the Prime Minister, on February 24, 2017, had claimed that the Kanpur train accident was a conspiracy. “June 6, 2023: Still no official news on NIA final report on Kanpur derailment. Zero accountability!” he tweeted.
This came shortly after Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge raised 11 questions on June 5 in a four-page letter to PM Modi, outlining all the facts on the Balasore accident known at that time, and demanding accountability. “Today, the most crucial step is to prioritise installation of mandatory safety standards to ensure safety of our passengers,” it said.
Kharge’s questions were on the following: the large number of vacant posts in the Railways (about three lakh); loco-pilots needing to work longer than mandated hours; the concern voiced by an official of the South West Railway zone on signalling being ignored; the “apathy and negligence” of the Railway Board to the recommendations of the Commissioner of Railway Safety as highlighted by a parliamentary committee; the massive reduction in funds for the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (a fund created to strengthen safety measures); the low coverage of the Kavach anti-collision device (operational only on 4 per cent); the real reason why the Railway Budget was merged with the General Budget; the reason for withdrawing concessions to the elderly, children and women; and fixing responsibility for the 150 deaths in the Kanpur train accident.
On the CBI getting involved in the Balasore case, Kharge said: “The Railway Minister claims to have already found the root cause, but yet 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, signalling and maintenance practices.”
He further said: “The statements so far and the roping in of yet another agency without the required expertise remind us of 2016. They show that your government has no intent to address the systemic safety malaise, but is instead finding diversionary tactics to derail any attempts to fix accountability.”
Instead of the PM, four BJP MPs from Karnataka, including former Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda and MP Tejaswi Surya, responded to Kharge.
Their response reads like that of a typical troll’s: it sidesteps the issues involved and mocks the person asking the question. The MPs call Kharge “the vice chancellor of WhatsApp University” and claim that he has been “forced to regurgitate fake news as facts”. Not one of Kharge’s questions is answered.
Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram described the response as “another example of the absolute intolerance of the BJP to any criticism”.