Concerns about inadequate attention to rail safety put the newly appointed Railways Minister Dinesh Trivedi in a tight spot in Parliament on Thursday.
Trivedi was taken to task by Congress general secretary and MP Vilas Muttemwar on the spate of rail accidents and the apparent lack of effort to address the issue. Opposition MPs also joined in as Trivedi’s responses proved to be less than satisfactory.
But that was not all, shortly afterwards, Trivedi came under attack in the Rajya Sabha during a calling attention motion over the same issue. In the upper House, the rail minister came under attack for prioritizing a room in Parliament over ensuring safety for passengers.
It was a shaky start for Trivedi who was delivering his maiden reply as railway minister in the Lok Sabha. In his question, Muttemwar drew attention to the fact that since April 2010, 475 persons have been killed in rail accidents and asked about the substantial measures that the ministry was taking to avoid accidents.
The railway minister announced in the Rajya Sabha that all safety-related vacancies would be filled within the week. “I will be personally going to sit on everybody’s head, if I can use the word,…all vacancies are going to be filled …at higher levels within this week,” Trivedi said. The Railways has around 1.5 lakh vacancies related to safety, but Trivedi did not give the numbers that needed to be filled up at higher level.
Opposition MPs blamed the Railways for lack of safety measures, which resulted in fatal accidents, saying that there were over 1 lakh vacancies in posts related to safety, large number of unmanned level crossings and indiscriminate announcement of new trains without investing in infrastructure like locomotives, rolling stocks and fire-proof coaches.
The Trinamool Congress has held the railways portfolio since 2009. Responding to Muttemwar, Trivedi sought to argue that the number of rail accidents had substantially reduced since the 1960s, when there “used to be 2000 plus accidents”, whereas in 2011 there have been 93 accidents.
The response clearly did not satisfy the senior Congress MP, who said that Trivedi is new to the ministry and will take time to understand everything. But that was not the end of it. As Trivedi tried to compare rail accidents in India with those in Europe, BJP member Yashwant Sinha asked him not to make any comparison as even a single death in a rail accident was “most despicable”. Left MP Ram Chandra Dome used the opportunity to draw attention to the unfulfilled budget speech assurances of greater assurance to rail safety. Dome said that the minister’s reply “does not satisfy anyone in the House.
If Trivedi thought he would fare better in the upper House, he was mistaken. The Opposition criticized the government for giving priority to secure a room in Parliament for the railway minister rather than safety of passengers. “His chamber has been secured as Prime Minister got involved.
But how the safety of passengers will be secured?” BJP member Prakash Javadekar joined in, “what is the government’s priority. Is it about safety of aroom? If the Railways cannot secure passengers’ safety, room or no room does not make a difference.” Economic Times