Saturday, July 24, 2010

Railways: Conspiring against the people ?

Even human lives are but an item for our politicians to fight over. The first lot of 62 bodies had hardly been taken out of the collided trains in Sainthia station when Mamata Bannerji and the West Bengal CPM came out with their blood feud. We are used to our politicians being unconcerned about the public good. But such open cynicism in front of human body parts was something new.

Neither side had the patience, let alone the decency, to wait for some indications of what actually happened. Before any evidence was collected and before any expert spoke, Mamata B. came out with the proclamation: “We have some doubt in our mind”. CPM publications came out with editorials squarely blaming the Railway Minister for neglecting her portfolio and condemning her obsession with “conspiracy theories”.

Given the levels of political hatreds between opposing groups in West Bengal, conspiracies are entirely plausible – from both sides. But the safety of the travelling public cannot be something for conspirators to play with. There have been 161 accidents since Mamata B. became Railway Minister and 16 of them were major ones costing the lives of 269 people. This is an inexcusable record, with or without conspiracies. The real conspiracy is against the people.

It is too late in the day for Mamata B. to pretend that she pays due attention to her portfolio. She certainly does not She is a fulltime Kolkata politician, fighting Kolkata politics, her eyes fixed firmly on Kolkata seats of power. A key and complex ministry like Railways is functioning without a minister and that is no CPM conspiracy.

In fact this is a feature of the Manmohan Singh Government. The so-called coalition dharma allows some rajahs of corruption to ply their trade from the chambers of the cabinet. In more than one instance it allows ministers to make a mockery of their portfolios while putting their hearts and minds in their “side business”.

Sharad Pawar has been doing this with impunity for a long time. The result is that the Food and Agriculture Ministry has become one of the most ineffective and badly managed ministries in the Government. Farmers’ suicides have been maximum in Vidarbha, lakhs of tons of stored foodgrain have perished, the distribution system is in tatters – but the Food Minister has hardly any time to notice such small things as he is busy running world cricket with headquarters in Dubai.

Mamata B. has been neglecting her portfolio with a hauteur only she is capable of. Asked about her not attending cabinet meetings in Delhi, her reply was that her home was not in Delhi. If this arrogance persists after she becomes chief minister of Bengal, the long-suffering people of Bengal will have gained nothing from the change of government they seek so badly.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has come out with a report itemising the areas of importance the Railway Ministry has neglected. Will the Minister say that the CAG also is part of CPM conspiracy? CAG has found that safety plans approved for implementation by 2008 have not been implemented. Safety is perhaps the most basic issue that should get the ministry’s attention. But there is no leadership in the ministry to do the basic things.

A former managing director of Konkan Railway, Rajaram Bojji, had invented an anti-collision system and implemented it in the K R network. Using both radio frequency and GPS technology, the anti-collision device brings a train automatically to a halt if the track ahead is not clear. One excuse for not introducing this system countrywide is that it is expensive. Certainly the Railway Minister can find the money to introduce it at least in and around West Bengal so that the treacherous CPM’s conspiracies can be defeated once and for all?

Mamata Bannerji is like a train that has gone off the rails. It is running on rail-less surface. There is danger ahead.