If safety is not to be derailed


  • Hundreds of trains hurtle across, carrying millions of passengers. The “braking distance” is no more than about two-thirds of a kilometre (against only about 200 ft on the highways).
  • The traffic load on the Indian Railways is ever increasing and the saturation level on its important routes is unduly high, leaving little cushion for maintenance.
  • The present “professional oriented” system for the Indian Railways was adopted from the very outset because of the size of its operations and its unique role in the economy of the country.


  • Derailments on the tracks of Indian Railways have always been a big technical and management challenge.
  • In recent years, there has been a spate of “derailments”.

The Issue:

  • The derailment of Uttaranchal Express at Khatauli case- in the absence of a permitted block by the traffic department, the track repairing staff took the unacceptable risk of going ahead with the track repair instead of putting a restriction on the movement of trains in the interest of safety of passengers. The responsibility was rightly fixed on the civil engineering department staff and officials.
  • The Indian tracks are under greater pressure, the permissible loading capacity of each wagon based on wagon axle loads. Large projects to relieve the pressure, like the construction of dedicated freight corridors, will take time. There is need to assess on which direction should safety measures head.

Debroy Committee & its Recommendation:

  • The government set up the Debroy Committee in 2014, whose primary terms of reference appeared to be to suggest measures to reduce the alleged phenomenon in the Indian Railway management system of “thinking in silos”.
  • In its report of 2015, wholesale structural changes were suggested, introducing what may be called “management generalism”.
  • If accepted, this dilution of specialism or “professionalism” would lead to the erosion of accountability and would be disastrous for railway management, particularly for railway safety.
  • The Debroy Committee Report on Railways (2015) recommends that departmentalism in railways must be reduced through merger of Group ‘A’ Services either by (a) merger of all engineering services and civil services of the Indian Railways into one unified service, or (b) the merger of all engineering Group ‘A’ Services into one unified service and all civil Group ‘A’ Services into another unified service and giving up the Ministry of Railways cum Railway Board system (in which policy and secretarial powers are with the chairman and board members who are not “generalists” but “professionals” and replacing it by a conventional Ministry of Railways (and later by a “Ministry of Transport”) which will be part of the current “central staffing scheme” manned by “generalists” as in the case of other ministries.
  • The recommendations, if accepted, will remove “professionalism” from the top management level of the Indian Railways.

The need of the hour:

  • The so-called “anti-departmentalism” move like the merger of Group ‘A’ Services and de-professionalization of the Ministry of Railways would sound a death knell to the extremely crucial safety factor in the Indian Railways.
  • The answer to departmentalism does not lie in merger of services and de-professionalization of the Ministry of Railways. Departments must not be gagged or demolished.
  • They must be allowed to flourish and have their say for they may be giving expression to a genuinely valid factor, which may clash with equally valid points of view of other departments.
  • There is need make efforts towards improving the machinery for arriving at a Balance of Advantage Position including the use of new techniques for assessing aptitudes, capabilities etc.
  • Indian Railways needs to institute measures to enhance accountability.

Source:Indian Express

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