When Railways Minister D V Sadananda Gowda was speaking in Parliament on safety on the tracks — and the dangers of unmanned crossings — the family of Chandrakant Baria in this Gujarat village was grieving. A couple of hours ago, they had lost their sole breadwinner.
Baria, 42, was trying to negotiate his tractor, with a water tanker attached to it, across an unmanned railway crossing when the Chhota Udepur-Vadodara local train hit his vehicle. He was killed on the spot — the 56th such death at unmanned crossings since April 1 this year, according to Railways records updated till June 30.
Baria is survived by his wife Amrutaben and five school-going daughters. Shital, the eldest, is preparing for her Class XII examination and Nimisha, the youngest, studies in Class II. Shital, along with her sisters Bhavna and Sejal, was on way to school, three km away in Bahadarpur, when they learnt about their father’s death.
Between April 1 and June 30, deaths at unmanned crossings accounted for 45 per cent of all deaths in rail accidents during that period, according to the Railways. Last year, deaths at unmanned crossings accounted for 39 per cent of all deaths on the tracks.
The problem figured in Gowda’s speech on Tuesday. “Indian Railways have 30,348 level crossings, out of which 11,563 are unmanned. Each unmanned level crossing is being examined in detail and depending on the site condition, action will be taken to eliminate it by suitable modality,” he said.
For Baira’s family and relatives, it was a death that could have been avoided. Baria’s wife was inconsolable and his relatives angry as they said the rail authorities had ignored repeated requests from the villagers to keep a guard at the crossing. “Everybody, including school-going children, passes through the crossing several times during the day. We approached the authorities at the Sankheda railway station with a request to deploy a guard here. They proposed an underbridge but did nothing,” said Kanubhai Baria, a villager.
Sarpanch Kamjibhai Tadvi said, “After our appeals to put a guard at the crossing, some officials visited the spot around one year ago and proposed to construct an underbridge, which was not implemented. We followed up on it several times but nothing happened.”
Baria had bought a second-hand tractor around six months ago, mainly to plough the fields. A week ago, he undertook the task of collecting water from a borewell in Bahadarpur for construction of a water tank for livestock in his village, around 50 km from Vadodara. “For the past one week, he would drive his tractor every morning with a water tanker to collect water. He was on his way to collect water from the village around 7 am when the first local train for the day, from Bahadarpur, hit him,” said his cousin Rajubhai Baria.
The tractor was dragged by the train about 100 metres from the spot. It took the authorities five hours to clear the track.