SABOTAGED: The Modi government is now on a mission to mislead the public by claiming the horrific three train collusion at Balasore was an act of sabotage!

By Rajan Narayan

Double-engine BJP government is obsessed with glamour. The triple train crash in Odisha dramatizes the misplaced priorities of the Modi government. It is more interested in super delux Vande Bharat trains than the safety and security of those who travel in long distance passenger trains of old…

THE misplaced priorities of the BJP government are coming to a sorry crisis. Take how for several days at a stretch Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s favourite duty is to flag of the Vande Bharat superfast trains being launched to various destinations in the country. Indeed, the launch of the Vande Bharat train from Mumbai to Goa was scheduled for Sunday, May 5, 2023. However, the PM’s virtual launch had to be held up after news came through of the horrifying triple train collision at Balisore in Orissa on Sunday.
The trains concerned were the Coromandel Express from Howrah to Chennai and Howrah Superfast from Bengaluru to Howrah. The two trains collided with a stationary good train packed with iron ore at Balisore. Both the Coromondal Express and Howrah Superfast cater to migrant labor travellers. There were a large number of them from the northern states who travel to Tamil Nadu and Bengaluru for work. It is the unreserved compartments which bore the brunt of the 250-plus casualties with a thousand passengers injured.
The latest three-train collision is symbolic of the policies of the Modi government. Its priorities are not safety of rail or road passengers but introducing fancy faster new trains to boost the image of the prime minister for the 2024 parliamentary elections. Besides the Vande Bharat trains there are also bullet trains now with one of them running now between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The fact is while there are fancy new trains which charge a ransom to passengers for a super luxurious train ride, the older passenger trains which are mostly used by the lower middle class and the middle class have been totally neglected and not maintained.
If the money spent on Vande Bharat and bullet trains had been spent on improving railway safety there would not have been such a major disaster as the one which took place last Sunday to shock many in the country. Reportedly the railways had introduced anti-collision devices but these were not operative. When the Modi government came the scheme was put on hold or discontinued. We know through the length and breadth of the huge Indian Railways network there are thousands of unmanned railway crossings, which means huge gaps on the tracks where people cross over without security or any guards on duty.

THERE are literally thousands of bridges and culverts over 50 years old and in terrible condition. Hence, there are any number of train accidents and incidents at culverts which collapse along with the trains and this goes unreported. One presume with the age of the Vande Bharat trains here all signalling would have switched over to digital and electronic mode. This presumably leaves little scope for error. In the case of this recent collision it was initially claimed that there was a human error. Now it is being claimed that the electronic system was deliberately sabotaged. The fact remains that the collision is an act of gross negligence and we cannot imagine such a head on collision between two superfast trains travelling at a speed of 100km.
All the emphasis has been on improving train coaches and facilities for passengers in the Vande Bharat trains. But not the safety of the passengers. This is a pattern not limited to railway travelling. Union Minister for Road Transportation Nidin Gadkari is responsible for building several new expressways during his tenure so far. Indeed, an expressway is being planned between Goa and Mumbai too. It was Gadkari who built the first expressway between Mumbai and Pune which reduced the travelling time from 4 hours to 2 hours plus 15 minutes. Nitin Gadkari also prides himself over the fact that he is responsible for a highway in Uttar Pradesh which is so strong that the biggest Air Force transport plan can land on it. But when it comes to our cities themselves whether it is Mumbai or Bengaluru the inner city highways and roads are in such a bad state that the number of accidents keep arising. Nobody is concerned with the maintenance of the existing urban metro roads which are heavily used.
Perhaps the biggest joke on the Narendra Modi government is decision to declare 22 cities as Smart Cities. These were supposed to be models and completely concretised. The signalling system would be electronic and there would be special bicycle tracks (as perhaps in other public-friendly countries like the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. The Smart Cities Project include such cities as Surat and Agra and a few others (Indore, Bhopal, Varanasi, Bhubaneshwar, Chennai, Coimbatore, Ranchi, Udaipur, Vishakapatnam, Ahemedabad, Pune, Vellor, Tanjavur, Tiruchapalli, Amravati), also capital city Panaji in Goa.

HOW smart the new Smart Cities are may be gauged by Panaji. We have it on record courtesy Goa’s Minister for Labour, Revenue and Waste Management Babush Atanasio Monseratte that the quality of roads of Smart City Panaji are indeed, substandard to the best of his knowledge. That the consultant doing all the work is ignorant of what it takes to qualify for a smart city. If Panaji is to be the model for Smart Cities one may imagine what the other Smart Cities may be like.
The Narendra Modi government is primarily concerned with showmanship. It is concerned with creating new government buildings and new infrastructures without any respect for the tried and tested old. His chief ministers Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant seem to be following him as an example and so we have a new Secratariat building for the chief minister and his ministerial team. Following the example of Prime Minister Narendara Modi, Dr Pramod Sawant too had a pooja with half-a-dozen burjee or priests performing the religious rites of Hinduism.
However, Narendra Modi is running out of luck. First he lost the Karnataka elections. Then he tried to compensate by flagging of Vande Bharat trains physically or by remote control sitting in Delhi. Now the Vande Bharat trains too are crashing. This kind of thinking and the neglect of primary infrastructure extends also to water provision for the common people. There are very few parts of the country with piped drinking water in every home. To this day women and children collect water in buckets and pots from the closest water source or through private water tanker service from government or private sources.
Agriculture is suffering for want of adequate irrigation water. In most states of the country the dams supply drinking water to homes and these dams dry up during the summer season. In Goa the level of water at Opa reservoir dam which supplies water to Panjim has fallen to 20 per cent according to latest reports. If the Mhadei river headwaters in Karnataka are diverted to Hubli and other places in the state the amount of water available in Goa will come down drastically over time with many places drying up.
IN all this the most tragic part is that most underground water pipelines are over 40 years old. This results in frequent breakages and loss of water. Even at the time of writing we are get the news of half-a-dozen breakdowns in the supply of water to people in various areas of Goa.

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