The devastating multi-train collision on 2 June in Odisha's Balasore district, which claimed 275 lives and left more than 1,000 injured, as usual, snowballed into a political slugfest, with demands made for resignation of Union Rail Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
The rail accident, being described as one of the worst in recent times, has reignited the old debate regarding whether the Narendra Modi-led NDA (2014-23) fared better than Manmohan Singh's UPA (2004-2014) on the count of railway safety.
Let us look at the facts first. For comparison, we have used the accident statistics from 2004-05 to 2013-14 as the reference for the UPA and the statistics between 2014-15 up to 2022-23 as the baseline for the NDA.
From 2004-05, when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), formed the government in the Centre, until 2014, when it demitted office, a total of 1,711 accident took place. As compared to this, from 2014 to March 2023, when BJP-led NDA occupied the centre-stage, the railways recorded a total of 638 accidents.
On the basis of the number of incidence of train accidents per million train kms, while the UPA-era saw it decrease from 0.29 in 2004-05 to 0.10 in 2013-14, during the current NDA-rule, it has reduced from 0.11 in 2014-15 to 0.037 in March 2023.
Railway train accidents (consequential) includes collision, derailment, fire, level crossing accidents and other miscellaneous accidents. While calculating the casualty due to a train accident, the number of persons killed are taken into account.
The casualty is further categorised into death of railway passenger, railway staff and others. The railways does not count run over deaths as deaths in railway accidents.
The number of accidents dropped sharply by 49 per cent from 234 during 2004-05 to 118 in 2013-14. A similar pattern has emerged during the NDA- coalition with the number of accidents dropping by a whopping 64 per cent from 135 in 2014-15 to 48 in March 2023.
While 2,453 lives were lost and 4,486 injured in all train accidents recorded in the UPA era, the NDA-rule has witnessed 781 deaths and 1,543 injuries.
For both the coalition governments, train derailment formed the biggest chunk of all rail accidents, with 867 train derailments reported during the UPA-rule compared to the 426 in the NDA-dispensation.
The BJP-led government has done convincingly better if a variable-to-variable comparison is made between the two governments. However, they seem to be almost even in terms of number of successes achieved during their rule.
The only caveat is that the train operation was heavily curtailed during 2020-21 due to Covid-related travel restrictions.
The Indian Railway (IR) is one of the world's largest railways. It acts as a vertically integrated organisation providing passenger and freight services. It is a single system which consists of 67,956 route km of track that traverse the country.
More than 21,650 number of trains ply on the railway network carrying about 22.15 million passengers and hauling nearly 3.32 million tonnes of freight every day.
Accidents tarnish image and question safe and sound working procedures of the railways. While both the coalition political dispensations have managed to turn the tide and improve the safety, much needs to be done .
The latest tragedy should now force the railways to focus on a fail-safe mechanism to save any further precious human lives from being lost.
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