Congress accuses government of ‘destroying’ railways, demands Ashwini Vaishnaw’s resignation

Kharge said whenever there is an accident, railway minister reaches the spot under the glare of cameras and behaves as if everything is fine.


Published Jun 18, 2024 | 8:02 PM Updated Jun 18, 2024 | 8:02 PM

Kanchanjunga Express collision

Accusing the government of “destroying” Indian Railways, the Congress on Tuesday, 18 June, demanded Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw’s resignation in the wake of the Kanchanjunga Express accident, saying he has no moral right to remain in the position.

The Opposition party also took a swipe at Vaishnaw for reaching the accident site riding a pillion on a motorcycle, asking whether he was a rail minister or a “reel minister”. The Congress alleged that “criminal negligence” perpetrated by the Modi government had “doomed the Railways”.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said whenever there is a train accident, the Modi government’s railway minister reaches the spot under the glare of cameras and behaves as if everything is fine.

“Narendra Modi ji, tell us who should be held accountable, the Railway Minister or you?” the Congress chief asked.

Kharge posed seven questions to the government and demanded answers.

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Questions Kavah system

After a major accident like Balasore, why was not even a single kilometre of the much-hyped “Kavach” anti-train collision system added, he asked.

“Why are nearly 3 lakh posts vacant in the Railways, why were they not filled in the last 10 years? According to the NCRB (2022) report, 1,00,000 people have died in rail accidents between 2017 and 2021 alone! Who will take responsibility for this?” the Congress chief asked.

The Railway Board itself has admitted that the long working hours of loco pilots due to acute shortage of manpower are the main reason for the increasing number of accidents, he said and asked why were the posts not filled.

“In its 323rd report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee had criticised the Railways for the ‘neglect’ shown by the Railway Board towards the recommendations of the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS). It was underlined that the CRS investigates only 8%-10% of accidents, why was the CRS not strengthened?” Kharge asked.

According to the CAG, why was 75 percent funding reduced in the ‘Rashtriya Rail Suraksha Kosh’ (RRSK), while Rs 20,000 crore was to be made available every year, he asked.

Why is this money being used by railway officials on unnecessary expenses and comfort facilities, Kharge further asked.

Cites reduction in number of coaches

“Why has travelling by train in the common Sleeper Class become very expensive? Why has the number of Sleeper Coaches been reduced? The Railway Minister recently said to use police force against the people ‘overcrowding’ rail coaches. But does he not know that 2.7 crore people had to cancel their tickets last year due to abysmal shortage of seats — a direct result of Modi government’s policy to reduce coaches?” Kharge said.

Did the Modi government merge the railway budget with the general budget in 2017-18 to avoid any kind of accountability, he asked.

“Self-glorification will not undo the criminal negligence perpetrated by the Modi government on the Indian Railways! Accountability needs to be fixed at the top,” Kharge said in his post on X.

Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters in New Delhi, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said the Railways is perhaps the most preferred mode of transport as far as the middle class, lower middle class and the poor are concerned simply because it is the most economical means of transportation.

Raises questions on accidents

She showed pictures of the Balasore train accident last June and of Monday’s accident, and asked what had changed between this period.

Shrinate said that as many as 1,117 railway accidents had taken place since 2014-23, which means an accident every three days.

These accidents have resulted in loss of life and property, she added.

“Who is going to take the moral responsibility for this? We have seen railway ministers in the past own up to moral responsibility and resign from their positions of power. But here we have a minister who does not miss an opportunity even in the time of plight and tragedy to make reels. He is not the rail minister, he is the reels minister of India,” she said.

“Even when he (Vaishnaw) went to Darjeeling and went to the accident site, he rode pillion on the bike without a helmet so that he is better captured in the video. Is that what’s your priority?” Shrinate asked.

She said the “Kavach protection” that the government had touted had failed the country.

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Notes vacancies in railways

“What explains the 3,12,000 vacancies in the Indian Railways? What explains the 21 percent vacant positions for loco pilots,” she asked.

On whether the Congress demands Vaishnaw’s resignation, Shrinate said, “Without a doubt. A government that is sensitive and accountable will fix accountability for every minister and every department. What explains 1,117 rail accidents in nine years from 2014 to 2023. Who is accountable for that?”

“What did Ashwini Vaishnaw do to not just modernise but make the railways secure from June last year in Balasore to June this year? Unless you fix accountability, how should people trust governance, how should people know they will be safe while travelling in railways,” Shrinate said.

“Absolutely, without a doubt, without blinking an eyelid, Ashwini Vaishnaw has no moral authority to remain in the position that he continues to enjoy,” she said.

The reality is that this government has left no stone unturned to “destroy” the Indian Railways.

On Monday, Kanchanjunga Express was hit by a goods train near New Jalpaiguri, leaving 10 people dead and several injured.

(Disclaimer: The headline, subheads, and intro of this report along with the photos may have been reworked by South First. The rest of the content is from a syndicated feed, and has been edited for style.)

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