The Congress on Thursday dubbed the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high-speed express an “election bullet train” and said its launch was timed keeping in mind the upcoming Gujarat Assembly polls. The opposition party said the foundation stone laying followed a set pattern of announcing packages and big-ticket projects by the Modi government ahead of every state election. It accused the Modi government of “completely abdicating its responsibility” towards safety of passengers, while focussing on this one project.
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge also charged Prime Minister Narendra Modi with delaying the project, conceived by the erstwhile UPA government, for three-and-a-half years, thus making it “economically unviable”. Congress spokesperson RPN Singh alleged that the BJP government was ignoring railway safety, even though 259 passengers have been killed and 973 injured in 29 major railway accidents since the Modi dispensation assumed office. Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe launched India’s first bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. The ambitious Rs 1.10 lakh crore project will cut travel time between the two cities from seven hours to less than three.
“It is a matter of deep concern that while the prime minister once again adopted a UPA (government) project, it took him three-and-a-half years to come to this stage of laying the foundation stone. It is only timed with the Gujarat elections (slated for later this year) in mind…This is nothing but a ‘chunavi bullet train’,” Kharge told reporters.
“People have been befooled once. The countrymen are very intelligent and will not be befooled again and again with the false promises made by Modi, who has only given speeches and then forgotten them,” he said, recalling how he had promised to convert Vanarasi which he represents in the Lok Sabha, into Kyoto. “We have witnessed in the past three-and-a-half years, how the prime minister uses big ticket projects, primarily for elections and pushing projects just before the elections. Announcement of packages and such projects have been a set pattern before every state election,” he alleged.
The former railway minister said it was “most distressing” that the Modi government was focusing on this one big project at the cost of Rs 1.1 lakh crore while it has “completely abdicated its responsibility” towards safety to the crores of rail passengers who travel daily on trains. Kharge said the BJP, that promised “bullet trains”, has done away with ‘Railway Budget’ which was a reflection of the status and capacity of the railways. “While the prime minister makes fake claims of railway expansion from the Red Fort, his government reduces the budgetary allocation of ‘Construction of New Rail Lines’ by 12 per cent.
“We have seen horrific rail accidents in the past couple of years, while Rs 1.1 lakh crore are required for rail safety, this government has actually allocated only 5 per cent of that sum so far,” he said.
Singh said the BJP government was diminishing the status of the railways and was endangering lives of common people. “India led the world in railway accidents by recording the maximum number of casualties and accidents in 2016 in any country. This has been the highest in a decade,” he said. The two leaders also alleged that 1.42 lakh posts for safety staff remained vacant across India, which, according to experts, was a major concern and clear case of official apathy.
He said while the passenger ended up paying 50 per cent more fare even when the trains were running with many seats empty. “As a result of this ill-conceived policy, even air fares are cheaper than a train ticket on many routes,” he said.