New Delhi: If her long absences from Delhi were already the talk of the town, the sudden spate of train accidents recently may further push Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee on the backfoot.
There have been six railway accidents, including two major ones that killed 29 people, in the past 40 days. As vital decisions and appointments to plug holes in rail safety remain pending, her detractors are calling it a clear case of “an engine running without a driver”.
Mamata’s six-month tenure in the Railways is also drawing comparisons, unfair as she may call them, with predecessor Lalu Prasad Yadav’s. “One thing that Lalu can genuinely claim credit for is the fact that railway accidents saw a massive decline during his five years at the helm of Railways,” a Rail Bhavan official said.
Data with The Indian Express shows that the number of railway accidents (collisions, derailments, level-crossing accidents, fire and miscellaneous) during Lalu’s term (2004-09) came down to 1,034, almost half of the 2,027 accidents in the five previous years. Incidentally, Mamata had been Railway Minister for a brief while during that time.
While the Trinamool Congress chief has lost no time announcing compensation to victims of these accidents, instituting inquiries and directing senior officials from Delhi to rush to the accident sites, questions are being raised about her failure to take steps to prevent such incidents.
Close to 90,000 posts of personnel key to ensuring rail safety have been hanging fire for months. With so many posts of gangmen, pointsmen, signalmen and assistant station masters lying vacant, it means there is a huge lack of “foot-soldiers” to patrol railway tracks spread over 63,000-plus kilometres across the country.