IRKED OVER the recent rail accidents, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu Tuesday pulled up the general managers (GMs) — officials in charge of running operations in the 17 railway zones — telling them that he would not listen to any excuses on the safety front. He also gave them a six-month deadline to take appropriate action.
Since April, as many as 54 accidents, including 29 derailments, have been reported. The minister did not hide his annoyance over this when he addressed the GMs at a day-long conference — a closed-door meeting — at Rail Bhavan.
“The minister told the GMs that the time for excuses was over and it was time senior officials like GMs owned responsibility,” said a ministry source. Prabhu, sources said, told the GMs that it was unfortunate that he had to call a meeting of such senior officials to discuss a basic issue like safety. He told them that they were the professionals running the system and were the ones who had developed the system so they should not be waiting for a minister — who’s a politician essentially — to tell them how to run trains, a source said.
He said that the Railways did not appear to be learning from experience. He also ordered the GMs to conduct safety audits within their respective zones and asked them to submit weekly reports. “The minister has also said that zonal railways would be tasked with conducting safety audits of their neighbouring zones so that more fair and objective safety assessments can be arrived at,” a source said.
Reminding that he had delegated and decentralised powers at the level of general managers and divisional railway managers, Prabhu underscored that “with this empowerment should come greater responsibility and accountability”.
Significantly, at the time Prabhu was making his remarks, news of another rail accident — this time involving a local suburban train derailing in Mumbai-started trickling in. As soon as Prabhu made his way out of the conference and was informed about the latest accident, he expressed exasperation.
Meanwhile, Railway Board chairman A K Mital Tuesday said that the ministry was finalising a comprehensive safety plan at an estimated cost of about Rs 1 lakh crore and would soon approach the Finance Ministry to set up a special safety fund. This plan, he said, would work towards eliminating all level crossings and strengthening tracks and bridges.