Need to transform Indian Railways
When India’s first passenger train between Bori Bunder (Mumbai) and Thane was flagged off on April 16, 1853, there were only 400 people on board and three engines named Sahib, Sindh and Sultan were used to pull the 14-coach train! Today, more than 2.30 crore passengers travel by Indian Railways every day.
This number is only slightly less than the Australian population (2.40 crore). Of course, Indian Railways has made a lot of progress, but comparatively, China has made a lot more progress than us. When we got independence in 1947, India had 53,596 route kilometres of rail network, which has now increased to 66,787 kilometres. That is, we added only 13,191 route kilometres of rail network in 70 years. In 1945, China had 27,000 kilometres of track which was half the length of track we had. But China now has 88,000 route kilometres of rail network. China has reached number two position after the US vis-a-vis rail tracks. In the last one decade alone, it laid about 20,000 kilometres of rail line. Russia is at number three followed by Indian Railways at number four.
The US, China and Russia, and all the countries in Europe have achieved the target of zero accident, but in India accidents occur anywhere, anytime. A large number of people are killed and injured. So the big question is, what is the reason behind it? The Indian Railways claims that 70 per cent of accidents are due to human error and this is true as well. Official statistics show that in the last three years, 361 train accidents occurred, out of which 185 accidents were caused by the errors of the railway employees. So are these accidents occurring due to the pressure of work on the employees? It seems to be so because 2.25 lakh posts of employees in group C and D categories, considered to be the backbone of Indian Railways, are vacant. Of these total posts, 1.22 lakh posts fall in the safety category. Actually, the railways have not paid attention to the staff crunch. When the era of economic liberalisation began in 1992, the Indian Railways had a total of 8,000 trains and 18.5 lakh employees. Today, the number of trains has gone up to 20,000 while the number of employees has come down to 13 lakh.
This is a matter of human error! Now look at what is the condition of the rail tracks of the Indian Railways? In 2012, the Kakodkar committee had stressed the need to replace 19,000 kilometres of railway tracks with immediate effect. In terms of replacing tracks, there is actually a great backlog.
Former Railway Board chairman A K Mittal had made it clear to the Parliamentary Committee that it is necessary to replace 5,000 kilometres of track every year but only 3,000 kilometres of track is actually replaced. Obviously, about 2,000 kilometre is added each year to the 19,000 kilometres of track that Kakodkar had talked about.
The reality today is that the financial condition of the railways is delicate. When we got independence, the railways’ share of freight transport was 80 per cent, which has now come down to 32 per cent. 70 per cent of the railways’ earnings come from freight trains while 30 per cent comes from passenger trains, catering and advertising. Exactly opposite, the trains carry 70 percent of passengers. Obviously, due to the population explosion, the pressure on the passenger trains has increased. Today, nearly 150 trains are running on the route on which 100 trains were supposed to run vis-a-vis the capacity of the tracks. Obviously, if more trains run on the tracks, they will cause attrition, needing immediate replacement!
Today, 3,000 bridges need to be rebuilt. The Hansraj Khanna Inquiry Committee had clearly said that the bridges that are 100 years old need to be constructed again, but the economic constraints has come in the way here too!
It is highly unbecoming for any developing country to say that it does not have money! Transportation is the country’s soul. The entire development cycle revolves around it. If the transport system is not up to the mark then how will the farmers take their goods from one place to another? Today, there is a lack of rail line in most parts of the country, including the North-East.
In the North-East, rail tracks are needed strategically too but every time lack of financial resources becomes the stumbling block! If the government wants, it can adopt some other way too. For instance, parts of the railways can be privatised as many countries of the world have done. Finances can also be arranged from public participation. The railways also owns the largest amount of land in the country. Money can also be generated by utilising that land.
The government will have to understand that providing safe and better rail travel is its social responsibility. The government can not brush aside its responsibility by stating that it lacks money. Especially, the safety and comfort can not be overlooked. The distasteful catering and filth characterise the Indian Railways. In fact, the need of the hour for the railways is to change. Use state-of-the-art aluminium wagon. Use the latest system of safety and security! The is the least country expects from Modiji!
Before I conclude
Abhishek Patel has really done an amazing thing! He is a head-constable at Chitora in Sagar district of Madhya Pradesh. He got the tip-off that a bomb has been planted in school. At that time there were 400 children in school. There was no bomb disposal squad! Patel thought that the life of more than 400 children was more precious than his own life. He picked up the 10 kg bomb on his shoulder and carried it to a deserted place a kilometer away. But I am surprised that the Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced cash prize of only Rs 50,000. Prizes worth crores of rupees are squandered on those winning matches and medals, but only Rs. 50,000 for this hero?
Why are children’s lives so cheap?
Some four years back, there was a huge hue and cry when 35 children died within five days at BC Roy Hospital in Kolkata. Four years later, hardly anyone remembers that incident! At that time, the government had also constituted a three-member committee to investigate, but who remembers that the committee acquitted the hospital authorities! Now there is a storm about Gorakhpur tragedy. The matter of Gorakhpur is slightly different from Kolkata. The cause of death was lack of oxygen here while in Kolkata there was a case of negligence in medical treatment.
As far as the case of deaths of children in Gorakhpur is concerned, I consider it not only carelessness but a case of mass murder. It is ironic that the hospital administration knew that the supply of oxygen will be affected. Nevertheless, no immediate concrete steps were taken. The firm which was supplying oxygen, had warned seven times because the hospital was not making payment of the outstanding bill of more than Rs. 68 lakhs. Media reports also said that the principal of the medical college was seeking bribe in lieu of releasing payment to the company supplying oxygen. Payment was delayed due to non-payment of bribe. It makes me wonder how a person can risk the lives of innocent children for a small amount of money? If these reports of the media are true then, in my eyes, that person should be tried for murder.
However, no such initiative has been undertaken by the state government. Shamefully, efforts were made to cover up the case of children’s death due to the shortage of oxygen supply. It was sought to be projected that children did not die due to lack of oxygen but succumbed to various diseases! But investigative journalism bared the government’s farce. When the government realised that the lie would not work, effort was made to suppress the matter by suspending a couple of officers.
However, the death figure of 35 children in 24 hours and 63 children in 5 days in Gorakhpur became public as it was triggered by lack of oxygen supply to the hospital. However, grim reality is that every month in districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh and adjoining Bihar, hundreds of children die due to the disease called encephalitis.
The main reason for encephalitis is the contaminated food and water along with mosquito bites. Along with this, it spreads like an infection. Most children succumb to this disease in these areas. The state and the central government are concerned about it. Encephalitis is not only claiming lives, but thousands of children are also getting crippled. Though the vaccination campaign has been going on since 2007, it is still incomplete. The cases of corruption in the course of vaccination drive crop up more often than not. The result is that the disease cannot be controlled. Fifty per cent of those who suffer from this disease succumb and 20 per cent of those who survive are devastated because of the irreversible damage to their body and nervous systems.
Developed countries of the world have almost overcome this disease but our death rate is increasing by the year. The biggest reason for the death of our children is the poor condition of health services. You would be surprised to know that our country spends only one per cent of its GDP on healthcare. There are many schemes going on in the name of health but the reality is that the death of children in this country has not been checked. This figure can frighten you that in our country, 7.30 lakh children die within one month of their birth and no more than 10.50 lakh children survive for just one year. Out of every 1,000 children, 48 die. The reason for this is the absence of cures for various diseases.
This figure seems incredible, but it is entirely true that over 8,000 children have died in Patna’s largest government hospital over the last five years! The condition of government medical system in other states of the country is almost the same. The hospitals in the urban areas are just fine but in the villages, the situation is quite serious. The irony is that nobody is concerned about it. Neither the central government nor the state governments are taking any concrete action to ensure effective medical treatment for poor people and to contemplate how lives of the poor children could be saved. The children who are saved from various diseases are not completely healthy because they do not get nutritious food. Have you ever thought what its consequences would be? When the children are malnourished, they will continue to remain victims of malnutrition till they reach the threshold of youth. In such a situation, how can we imagine a better future? It is said that children are a form of God. It is ironic that while we squander crores of litres of milk on God, millions of children go hungry and crave for a few drops of milk.
Before I conclude
Those who have a very short physical stature have done India proud in Toronto. In the dwarf’s Olympics, World Dwarf Games, the Indian team has won 15 gold medals, 10 silver medals and 12 bronze medals. It is no less than winning a medal in any Olympics but the fame they deserve and should have got was missing. We need to change our attitude.