Hours after a preliminary probe report indicated that the Kalinga Utkal Express derailed due to negligence on the part of those carrying out track maintenance work at Khatauli yard, the Railways Ministry on Sunday sent three top officials, including a Railway Board Member and a zonal General Manager, “on leave” and suspended four others.
Railway Board Member (Engineering) Aditya Kumar Mittal, Northern Railway General Manager R K Kulshreshta and Delhi Divisional Railway Manager R N Singh were “sent on leave” with immediate effect, a day after the accident in which 22 people were killed.
Railway officials said this was the first time that a Railway Board Member — a Secretary-level post — has faced action for an accident. As Member (Engineering), Mittal was the senior-most officer in charge of tracks, land, civil engineering projects and station development. A 1978-batch officer of the Indian Railway Service of Engineers (civil engineering), he was set to retire at the end of this month.
When contacted, Mittal told The Indian Express, “Nobody has told me anything about this. I am very much in Delhi. I am hearing it from you.”
Before being removed and “sent on leave”, Kulshreshta, a 1980-batch Indian Railway Electrical Service officer, ordered the suspension of four officials — Senior Divisional Engineer, Delhi division, R K Verma, Assistant Engineer (Meerut) Rohit Kumar, Senior Section Engineer (Muzzafarnagar) Inder Jeet Singh and Junior Engineer (Khatauli) Pradeep Kumar — and the transfer of Chief Track Engineer Alok Kansal. Kulshreshta has over a year left as GM.
Earlier in the day, Mohd Jamshed, Railway Board Member (Traffic), who rushed to the accident site on Saturday, said “exemplary punishment” would be taken against top officials as well as field staff.
A preliminary probe report indicated that the train had derailed due to lapse or negligence on the part of those carrying out track maintenance activities at Khatauli yard. A “glued joint” in the rail, which holds a signal-separation mechanism, was being fixed, without putting in place the mechanism to block train traffic. The Permanent Way Inspector did not place warning signals for oncoming trains.
All the field staff responsible for the lapse have been suspended.
Jamshed confirmed that some track maintenance tools were found near the derailment site. “We are waiting for the report in the evening… Exemplary punishment will be announced to fix responsibility,” he said.
According to sources, the list of top officials who faced action was drawn up on Sunday morning by Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu and Railway Board Chairman A K Mital, after ministry officials and Board Members returned from the accident site.
“The minister wanted exemplary action, so a list was drawn up,” said a senior Railway Board official. “It is up to the minister and the chairman to decide when to call these officers back from leave. They may also decide not to post them again,” he said.
Prabhu had tweeted in the morning that “laxity will not be allowed in operations by the Board”. He had directed the chairman to fix responsibility by the end of the day.
While “sent on leave” and transfer will be noted as “administrative action” in the service records, suspension is a major penal action against a government official.
Those involved in the maintenance work have reportedly claimed that they had asked for rail traffic to be blocked, but were denied the request. Their claim is being probed.
Meanwhile, a purported audio clip of a conversation between a member of the track maintenance gang carrying out the work at Khatauli yard and another railway staff surfaced on Sunday.
In the purported clip, the trackman claims that the Permanent Way Inspector, also known as Junior Engineer, did not place warning signals like red flags for the oncoming train, despite the fact that the work was not complete. He says that the track-welding machine was at the site when the train derailed. “The gangmen were not listening to the junior engineer…,” he says.
Jamshed said that they would probe the audio clip.