The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has issued a strong demand for the resignation of Rail Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw following the devastating train disaster in Balasore. The party alleges that the Modi government’s negligence and focus on symbolic gestures have compromised the safety and lives of innocent citizens.

In a scathing attack, AAP Chief Spokesperson Ms Priyanka Kakkar, criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regular appearances at Vande Bharat flag-off events, comparing him to a mere station master. Ms Kakkar argued that the government’s failure to prioritise the operation of high-speed trains on advanced tracks demonstrates a disregard for human lives. She further revealed that numerous complaints regarding faults in the signal maintenance system had been raised from various zones. However, no substantial actions were taken to rectify the issues. This negligence highlights the government’s lack of responsiveness and accountability in addressing critical safety concerns.

AAP Rajya Sabha Dr. Sandeep Pathak, who is also a member of the Railways Standing Committee, proposed the installation of anti-derailment devices and the upgrading of tracks for high-speed train operations. However, the Modi government’s primary focus remained on the Vande Bharat project. This diversion of attention from crucial safety measures further raises questions about the government’s commitment to passenger safety. Ms Kakkar also cited a warning issued by the Railway Principal Chief Operation Manager on February 8, 2023, urging the Modi government to take preventive measures to avoid accidents on the Bangalore-Delhi line. This warning underscores the government’s failure to act proactively in safeguarding the lives of railway passengers. She criticised the railway minister’s self-promotion of the Train Collision Avoidance System, renamed as the Kavach System, developed in 2012. Regrettably, only 2 percent of trains have been equipped with this life-saving technology. This lack of implementation demonstrates a stark discrepancy between the government’s rhetoric and their actual commitment to passenger safety.

In a press conference on Sunday, AAP Chief Spokesperson Ms Priyanka Kakkar, expressed grief and concern over the recent tragic train collision in Balasore district, Odisha, the death toll for which currently stands at nearly 300, with 56 individuals in critical condition and approximately 900 hospitalised. She highlighted the government’s lack of accountability and its failure to prioritise the safety and well-being of passengers. Highlighting the frequency of accidents across the country, Ms Priyanka Kakkar emphasised, “From Morbi to Balasore, we are witnessing frequent accidents, which make it abundantly clear that Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and the BJP have no concern for human life. We see that PM Modi, like a station master, is ready to inaugurate something every week with the green flag. But it is evident now that they are playing with people’s lives by neglecting the maintenance and operation of fast trains on updated tracks.”

She further added, “In the modern era of 2023, it is shocking that the nation witnessed an unprecedented tragic collision of three trains. The collision occurred at a speed of 130 kilometres per hour, causing even the train track to rupture the train bogeys violently and rise up, leaving unimaginable devastation in its wake. The heartbreaking images of the accident’s aftermath, include a father crying and looking for the body of his son. In a horrifying video, human bodies were thrown and piled on top of each other, like dead cattle. This shows the lack of dignity in both life and death under the Modi government.”

Ms Priyanka Kakkar highlighted the staggering number of people who rely on train travel in our country—around 2.3 crore individuals per day. These passengers pay an additional 60 paise as insurance, supplementing their ticket fare, with the expectation that in the event of an accident leading to death, the deceased’s family would receive Rs 10 lakh in compensation. Ms Priyanka Kakkar raised questions about the Modi government’s response, asking, “Does the government’s responsibility end with merely providing insurance in the way of compensation? Are condolences sufficient to absolve them of accountability? We demand accountability. Who will bear the responsibility? Will it be a lineman or will it go to the root cause, those in positions of greater authority?”

The AAP chief spokesperson emphasised many serious issues plaguing the railway sector that have been continuously neglected by the Modi government. Bringing attention to the concerning vacancy rates in the railways, Ms Priyanka Kakkar said, “Railway Minister Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw himself revealed last year that there are approximately 3,30,000 vacancies in the Railways, with around 50% of these vacancies pertaining to safety and security. He had said in 2022 that Balasore, the site of the recent triple train collision, had around 18,000 vacant posts. In November 2022, the Railway Workers’ Union organized a sit-in, emphasizing the pressing need for new recruitments, in light of the vacancies, current staff doing overtime and hence, not getting the required rest. They stressed that filling these vacancies was of utmost significance, particularly in terms of ensuring security. Despite repeated pleas from railway workers’ unions, the government has failed to address this critical issue, compromising passenger safety.”

Turning to the much-publicised Kavach system, Ms Priyanka Kakkar reminded the audience of the extensive media coverage facilitated by the Railway Minister surrounding its implementation. She stressed, “Formerly known as the Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) developed in 2012, the system was rebranded as the Kavach System.” She criticised the Railway Minister for promoting this technology, by claiming it to be a modern marvel introduced during PM Modi’s tenure, with the assurance that train collisions would become a thing of the past. “However, the stark reality is that less than 2% of trains are equipped with the Kavach system. Whose fault is this? If even 50% of our trains had been fitted with Kavach systems before the Minister’s re-naming campaign, it would have been a more meaningful initiative.”

The AAP chief spokesperson highlighted the comments by AAP Rajya Sabha MP Dr. Sandeep Pathak on Sunday as he criticised the Modi government for its failure to implement the Rail Safety Protocol. As an active member of the Standing Committee on Railways, Dr Sandeep Pathak consistently emphasized the need to expedite safety measures for trains. He has raised concerns earlier that the Modi government’s focus on public relations, without prioritizing the installation of necessary safety equipment, is a dangerous and unacceptable approach.

Ms Priyanka Kakkar stated, “Dr Sandeep Pathak has repeatedly attempted to draw the central government’s attention to the fact that 75% of accidents in India are caused by derailments. He consistently urged them to prioritize safety by installing the necessary Kavach systems, anti-derailment devices, and track upgrades before launching more high-speed trains. Unfortunately, his concerns were overlooked, as the Railway Minister was primarily focused on the Vande Bharat publicity project, putting the lives of passengers at risk. It is essential for Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw to be accountable for promoting the Kavach system without effectively implementing it.”

Furthermore, Ms Priyanka Kakkar drew attention to the serious flaws in the signal maintenance system and the lack of monitoring. Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw stated on Sunday that the train accident in Balasore, Odisha, was caused by a “change in the electronic interlocking system.” She stressed, “The Principal Chief Operation Manager, Shri Hari Shankar Verma, had raised concerns about repeated errors in the Signal Maintenance System, informing the Central Government on February 8, 2023, about a serious flaw in the system, resulting in signals displaying green when they should be red. This flaw almost led to a major accident on the Bangalore-Delhi Expressway. This problem was reported from various zones, and immediate action was recommended. Why was this not addressed? Questions arise regarding the actions taken and whether anyone has been monitoring the matter. The Principal Chief Operation Manager was aware of the problem, so why has no action been taken since February? Are you waiting for an accident to happen? Who will be held accountable for this oversight? Is firing a lineman enough to absolve the Railway Minister of his responsibility? The 2022 CAG report also exposes numerous faults in railway safety that the citizens should be aware of.”

Ms Priyanka Kakkar also highlighted the government’s decision to take away the independent Railway Safety Committee Board, leading to a lack of proper guidance and decision-making authority. She stated, “This decision, made through an ordinance in 2018, has left no agency to effectively address safety concerns and guide the railways. It is yet another instance of the central government’s failure to prioritize and plan for the well-being of its citizens.”

Furthermore, highlighting the disregard of the Railway Board towards the recommendations of the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS), Ms Priyanka Kakkar highlighted that the Railway Board, which was previously an independent body, was brought under the control of the Aviation Ministry through an ordinance in 2018. As a result, decisions regarding railway safety cannot be made independently anymore. She also attributed this lack of an authoritative agency to provide proper guidance on railway safety to the central government’s lack of research and planning.“The Modi government acts impulsively without considering the consequences of its decisions. Even if changes were to be made, all protocols, regulations, and orders should have been in place beforehand. The value of human life cannot be taken lightly, so the Modi government cannot be allowed to show their incompetence in matters of security and infrastructure,” she said.

Demanding accountability and resignation from Railway Minister Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw, Ms Priyanka Kakkar asserted, “It is high time the central government is held accountable after the grave Balasore tragedy. Compensation cannot replace the lives lost. We demand the immediate resignation of Railway Minister Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw, who has proven to be a colossal failure in his role as the Railway Minister. He serves solely as the Public Relations Minister of the Modi Government and should step down as the Railway Minister. This tragic incident was avoidable, and it is imperative that accountability is established. It is crucial to establish accountability from Morbi to Balasore.”

Ms Priyanka Kakkar addressed the central government’s response as “a diversionary strategy,” stating, “It is the BJP’s old playbook of deflecting blame rather than accepting failure. Instead of admitting failure and acknowledging the problem, they consistently evade responsibility. If the government does not acknowledge the problem, how can we expect them to find a solution? The Railway Minister, Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw, himself promoted the Kavach system extensively. If it has not been successful, why was it endorsed?”

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