Thursday, April 22, 2021

A tragedy

The manner in which the investigations into the Amritsar railway tragedy are becoming a casualty to politicking and game of accusation and counter accusation is a sad reflection of the scant regard for issues of safety and loss of precious human lives. The shock of the tragedy is enhanced by the callous manner in which both the Punjab state and the central government are shirking responsibility and blaming the people for standing on the tracks. The need for increasing public awareness to issues of safety and to strictly abide by law cannot be sidelined but the argument is bizarre. If public alone is expected to behave responsibly and be self-regulated by law and order, why does the country even need governments to govern them. The tragedy has raised pertinent questions about why Dusshera celebrations were allowed to be organized so close to the railway tracks and why the driver of the train was given a green signal to go ahead at the railway crossing. Clearly, there is negligence at both the levels. There is as yet no clarity on whether the organisers had due permission from the local administration for the event, though some reports have indicated that the same function was being held in the venue for the past several years. Whatever be the nature of permission that the organisers got from the authorities, the state government cannot escape the blame of over-sight and major security lapse in ensuring that the tracks were free of people. As per norms, adequate security is pressed into service for organizing of such public events and in light of this, the assembling of 700 people on the tracks points out to the extremely glaring lapses in this exercise. There are sketchy and unclear reports on whether or not the railways department was informed of the occupation of the tracks by the public. Ideally, the Railway Protection Police should have been apprised of the situation by the local authorities as well as its own inputs. That they were caught unawares is an indication of dereliction of duty and lack of responsibility. The far more evident lapse seems to have come from the railway staff posted along the tracks near the Jora Phatak area who gave the green signal to the driver of the train instead of stopping him on the tracks. Till date, there is no word as yet on the staff posted there or whether the railway police authorities have been interrogated or not. Instead, the driver, who is supposed to follow simple instruction without holding the responsibility of looking for bottlenecks on the tracks, was made the convenient scapegoat with his arrest and interrogation. The railway tracks come under the jurisdiction of the Indian Railways, which must share the larger onus. The Amritsar tragedy may have come to the limelight due to the huge trail of dead it has left behind. But a recent report now brings to light the far more chilling reality of railway accidents pertaining to people being knocked down by trains on tracks on a daily basis. The statistics are shocking and point out to the long maintained culture of callousness. Data provided by the Indian Railways states, 49,790 deaths happened because people were hit by trains on tracks from 2015 to 2017. Deaths on railway tracks occur due to trespassing, violating safety and cautionary instructions, avoiding over-bridges, using mobile phones and other electronic gadgets when crossing railway tracks, it says. This means, on an average 45 people die on the tracks every day, a number that is close to the Amritsar tragedy and explains the continuing callousness of the Railway authorities and the impunity with which they are trying to get away. The shocking figures of last three years as a context to the Amritsar tragedy are enough to make heads roll in the railway department and should have compelled the railways minister to resign owning moral responsibility. The minimum that can be done is to initiate an impartial and speedy probe as well as gear up to the situation of deaths on tracks on a daily basis.