As India mourns the tragic death of a young woman in the train blast at Chennai, the Railways has failed to take heed from various expert recommendations over the critical safety issue.
A woman was killed and many were injured when two low-intensity bombs exploded on two coaches of the Bangalore-Guwahati train at Chennai Railway station. The police is probing the case but a look back on safety track record shows scant regard for majors suggested to make this lifeline safer.
The terror perspective apart serious concern over safety issues in Indian Railways can be clearly due to non acceptance of recommendations prescribed by various committees and dual command approach for Commission of Railway Safety (CRS).
On March 12 2012, a High Level Safety Review Committee headed by Dr Anil Kakodkar, recommended setting up of a statutory Railway Safety Authority (RSA) and a safety architecture which is powerful enough to have a safety oversight on the operational mode of Indian Railways without detaching safety with the railway operations.
The Committee also recommended measures to strengthen the present Railway Safety Commission to undertake meaningful regulatory inspections. But despite a proposal by the then railway minister Dinesh Trivedi (for setting up an independent Railway Safety Authority) no progress has been made in this regard.
Commenting on the Indian Railways’ slow pace initiation approach towards the previous safety Committees recommendations, Anil Kakodkar Committee said that, “Indian Railways suffers from ‘implementation bug’.”
However, India has a Commission of Railway Safety, which deals with matters pertaining to safety of rail travel and train operation and is charged with certain statutory functions as laid down in the Railways Act (1989), which are of an investigatory and advisory nature. The Commission conducts statutory inquiry into serious train accidents occurring on the Indian Railways and makes recommendations for improving safety on the Railways in India. But the commission works under the administrative control of the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation.
This dual command approach of the commission affects safety standards in Indian Railways and which was also highlighted by a 2005 Parliamentary Standing Committee on transport, tourism and culture. Parliamentary Standing Committee on transport, tourism and culture suggested that that there should be standalone legislation for the Commission of Railway Safety. The committee suggested that the issue of separate legislation should be discussed seriously, defining the role, powers and jurisdiction of CRS for ensuring its autonomy and effective functioning.
Based on the suggestion the Ministry of Civil Aviation had prepared a draft, "Commission of Railway Safety Bill", but that was not supported by the Ministry of Railways. The proposal was dropped in 2010.
However, on March 8, 2013 the Minister of state for railway Kotla Jayasurvya Prakash Reddy in a written reply to Rajya Sabha said, "Commissioners of Railway Safety are completely independent and exercise their independent and free judgment while discharging their duties under the Act. Ministry of Railways provides all the support in terms of infrastructure/logistics as and when required by the Commission."