July 27, 2016
Dola Sen speaks during Zero Hour regarding the demand for elimination of unmanned level crossings in the country | Full Transcript
The tragic incident that happened earlier this week shook us to our very core. Reports are still coming in, but at least seven children were killed and several others injured as their school minibus was hit by a train at an unmanned railway crossing in Auraiye, Bhadohi in Uttar Pradesh. The mini bus of Tenderheart School carrying students up to 10 years of age was hit by Varanasi-Allahabad passenger train. On March, 2016 the Minister of Railways reported that there are 10,440 unmanned level crossings in the country as on April, 2015.
In 2014, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court of India seeking the elimination of all unmanned railway crossings and in the meantime to ensure the safety of the children on unmanned railway crossings. Yet, as we are witnessing today, accidents and deaths at unmanned level crossings still occur with alarming regularity. Kids with hopes and dreams in their eyes, with courage and ambition in their hearts, have been taken away from us in a cruel twist of fate.
From 2009 to 2014, almost 43% of all railways accidents were at level crossings. Of the 16 railway zones, more than 35% of the level crossings are unmanned. From August 2015 to January 2016, there were 15 accidents at level crossings, resulting in the deaths of 26 people. Studies have shown that increasing train speeds and rapid motorization of rural roads have increased the cases of accidents at unmanned level crossings. A number of these accidents involve buses, often involving school children, leading to a disproportionately high number of fatalities when compared to number of accidents.
It is important to draw attention to the fact that when Mamata Banerjee was the Railway Minister, due to her untiring and sustained work towards rail safety, the index for train accidents decreased significantly from 0.29 per million train km in 2004-05 to 0.17 in 2009-10. This was despite the increase in traffic from 16,021 trains per day to 18,820 trains. Under her leadership, 1,500 unmanned crossings were eliminated, 172 ROBs and 240 RUBs/subways were constructed. The Government’s Railway budget in 2015 had envisioned the target of eliminating 3438 level crossings by 2016, however only 350 manned level crossings and 1,000 unmanned level crossings were eliminated.
Funds for elimination of level crossings come from Central Road Fund (CRF) as a percentage of cess collected on Petrol and Diesel by Ministry of Finance. The Average Annual Allocation to Railways from Central Road Fund is approximately Rs. 1,100 crore against throw forward of Rs. 31,700 crore. The Government has not fixed a target for 2016-17 and 2017-18.
The Government expenditure on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train is estimated to be around Rs. 1 lakh crore. How does the Government justify spending this exorbitant amount while tragedies like the one we faced today has become an everyday reality for the country’s citizens. I would urge the Centre to expedite the process of eradicating all unmanned level crossings in the country. This needs to be ensured so that avoidable tragedies like the one that took place today do not keep repeating themselves. Let us not blame each other, but rather work together, towards making India a better and a safer country.