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Don't Change Ministers, Improve Railways, Says Congress

New Delhi:  Criticising the railways for “criminal negligence” resulting in the death of 22 people on a foot overbridge stampede in Mumbai, the Congress today asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “change the face of the railways and not ministers”. “We would like to tell the Prime Minister that you can’t placate the public by just changing railway ministers. If you have to change anything, change the railways’ face,” Congress spokesperson and Lok Sabha parliamentarian Sushmita Dev said in New Delhi.

PM Modi shifted Suresh Prabhu out of the Railway Ministry in a cabinet reshuffle earlier this month and elevated Piyush Goyal as the new Railway Minister.

“The Prime Minister should give real solutions to the Railway Ministry rather than changing railway ministers. This is a huge dereliction of duty on his part,” she added.

Ms Dev said the Modi government had “misplaced priorities” and that instead of spending money on bullet trains, the government should focus on improving railways’ basic infrastructure.

She said while the railways hiked the cost of platform ticket from Rs 10 to Rs 20 in view of festival rush, it had not cared to take measures to increase passenger safety.

Twenty-two people died in a stampede on a narrow railway foot overbridge connecting the Parel and Elphinstone Road stations on the Western Railway section of Mumbai today.

“Time and again, the commuters have complained about the safety of this foot overbridge. Even the Central Railway in 2015 had accepted that this heritage bridge linking Parel and Elphinstone Road stations was structurally weak and had decided to direct the footfall to the other bridge connecting Dadar and Parel by extending it to the eastern end of Parel as a temporary measure,” Ms Dev said.

“But due to slow progress of work and criminal negligence of the railway authorities, no concrete action was taken,” she added.

The Congress demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident and asked the government to raise the compensation amount to “at least Rs 50 lakh” from Rs 5 lakh announced by the government.

“There are 1.42 lakh vacant posts in the railway safety department. The next of kin of railway accident victims should be given those jobs, so that their kitchens keep running,” Ms Dev said.

The Congress spokesperson also asked for a safety audit of all foot overbridges, platforms and overhead bridges in the entire Mumbai suburban railway system.

“The Modi government has raised railway tariff by 70 per cent in the last three years. As many as 259 passengers have been killed and 973 injured in 29 major railway accidents that have occurred since the Modi government took office,” she pointed out.

She also questioned the wisdom of merging the Railway Budget with the general Budget on the pretext of increasing railways’ revenue share.

“The Modi government merged the Railway Budget with the General Budget so that the railways does not have to pay the annual dividend they have to pay for gross budgetary support from the government every year. This means that the railways should have enough money to spend for improving infrastructure and safety,” she said.

The Congress demanded implementation of the Bibek Debroy and Anil Kakodkar committees’ recommendations on railway safety.