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By V. Jayanth
IN VIEW of the increase in accidents and fatalities on the rails in recent months, the Indian Railways has come out with a Corporate Safety Plan (CSP) to be implemented over the next 10 years. It will involve an outlay of Rs. 31,835 crores.
Reviewing safety has been an on-going programme on the Railways. In the past four decades, four Safety Review Committees have been set up. These committees have examined the deficiencies in the system and come up with recommendations. The most recent and comprehensive study on safety came from the Justice H.R. Khanna Committee, which submitted its report in 1998. In addition, the Railways conducts a statutory inquiry into every serious accident by a Commissioner of Railway Safety. There is thus no dearth of reports or recommendations.
The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, acceded to a request from the Railways for setting up a safety corpus fund of Rs. 17,000 crores to undertake prioritised works over a five-year period. This is already being implemented, while the Railway Ministry has released its comprehensive CSP.
As suggested by the Justice Khanna Committee, the CSP will look at the items of priority, lay down a time frame for achieving them, define the different managerial responsibilities and the investments required to complete the safety-related works. The CSP aims at making the Railways "more reliable and a safer mode for transportation of men and material," to stimulate the implementation of a dynamic safety plan, bring about improvements in safety performance, encourage safety research and reduce "consequential train accidents."
Overall, the CSP envisages the creation of a `safety culture' that will cover changes in policies pertaining to recruitment, training and redeployment in keeping with the recent developments, and ensure a code of conduct for railway safety in the thrust areas. Most of the achievable targets have been divided into two phases of five years each. Apart from the policy issues, the CSP will provide the system with safety equipment and materials that will impact on safety. The work will cover rehabilitation, renewal and replacement of assets, modernisation and technological upgradation and capacity generation. All this will involve considerable outgo of funds and the Railways plans to harness all avenues and resources the Special Railway Safety Fund, the Railway Safety Fund and the non-budgetary initiatives. There will be a fresh demand with the Planning Commission and the Finance Ministry.
The CSP aims to reduce derailments, which constitute 75 per cent of total accidents, but account for only 14 per cent of total fatalities, to 60 per cent through a scheme of replacement of over-aged tracks, bridges and rolling stock; eliminate four-wheeler tank wagons (which are said to be accident-prone); reduce thermit-welded joints; and improve training facilities.
Level-crossing accidents comprise 16 per cent of the railway accidents, but account for 46 per cent of total fatalities, that too, involving road users. The CSP concedes that there has been a "rising trend in level crossing accidents in the last decade 23 per cent." The Railways wants to arrest this trend through awareness programmes, construction of road over-bridges and under-bridges at level-crossings, manning of unmanned level-crossings, provision of phones and interlocking at level-crossing gates, and the use of train actuated warning device along with the anti-collision device.
A strategy for financing this programme is also being evolved. A Railway Safety Fund was created in April 2001 to finance works related to manning of unmanned level crossings and for construction of over-bridges or under-bridges. This is financed through receipts from the Central Road Fund, which mops up a cess on fuel at one rupee per litre of petrol and diesel sold. The Railways gets 12.5 per cent of the petrol cess and 6.25 per cent of the diesel cess. Further, a Special Railway Safety Fund was set up in October 2001 for Rs. 17,000 crores to clear the arrears of replacement or renewal of over-aged assets such as tracks, bridges and rolling stock. In this, Rs. 12,000 crores will come in the form of dividend-free budgetary support and the remaining Rs. 5,000 crores from the safety surcharge on passenger fares. According to the Railways, Rs. 3,920 crores has been spent from this fund till March 2003.
In the projected Rs. 31,835 crores, the CSP has provided for Rs. 13,000 crores from the special fund. Another Rs. 8,900 crores may be available under the safety fund, calling for an investment of Rs. 890 crores a year over 10 years. But experience has shown that only about Rs. 200 crores a year are spent because of the delay on the part of the State Governments to sponsor the over-bridges or under-bridges under the cost-sharing formula. To implement the full CSP, another Rs. 10,000 crores will have to be raised and the Railways will evolve a mechanism to mop up these resources.
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