July 15, 2019
Shanta Chhetri speaks on Metro Rail accident and neglect by Centre of Metro Rail Kolkata
Kolkata Metro is India’s first underground mass transit system. However, the metro network has fallen into disrepair for years, thanks to the failure of the government at the Centre to look after it. The sheer neglect of the Kolkata Metro and the step-motherly treatment meted out to it at the hands of the Centre came to the fore yet again last week after a 66-year-old passenger lost his life as the train took off with his hand stuck in the door.
Human life seems to have been taken for granted as passenger safety has long been compromised in the Kolkata Metro. Over the last couple of years, even though more and more people started using the metro, funds for its upkeep have been slashed in every railway budget. Increasing passenger traffic hasn’t gone hand in hand with regular maintenance of or upgradation in the metro rail’s crumbling infrastructure, making passengers even more prone to mishaps. In fact, the West Bengal fire department in December 2018 had issued a notice to the Kolkata Metro authority after safety measures were found to be inadequate after 40 passengers were injured in a metro fire. Clearly, no lessons on safety have been learnt, leading to yet another tragedy last week.
Further, the newly acquired AC rakes have been found to be defective and fear of snags has restricted their use. As a result, more non-AC rakes have been deployed to make up for the shortfall. These new rakes even failed multiple trails before receiving clearance. This issue highlights the incompetency on the part of the railways officials who not only sanctioned the acquisition of faulty rakes but even cleared them for commercial run, putting passenger safety at risk.
When the current Chief Minister of West Bengal, Ms Mamata Banerjee, was the Railway Minister, she had created a separate zone for Kolkata Metro, making it at par with other zonal railways. New rakes were brought and regular maintenance was conducted. Now, the Metro Railway is disintegrating and no steps have been taken for its upkeep. Centre has not undertaken any new projects in the Metro.
The Chief Minister in the state has promised all kinds of assistance, including a state government job, to the victim’s family who lost his life in the metro train tragedy last week. On the part of the railways and the Centre, what is required is a substantial rethink and swift action on the future of only underground mass rapid transit under its purview. To avoid such grievous incidents from happening again, an urgent upgradation and modernization of the Kolkata Metro is the need of the hour. These changes include allocation of adequate funds for urgent replacements and improvements, introduction of new and better technology coaches as well as ensuring maintenance at regular intervals.