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Railway Ministry rejects Garg panel findings

By Vinay Kumar

NEW DELHI, DEC. 13. Contrary to the findings of the Justice G.C. Garg Commission that probed the November 1998 train accident near Khanna, Punjab, in which 210 persons were killed, the Railway Ministry today claimed that the practices of the Track Directorate, severely indicted by the Commission, were "fully in order and at no point of time the rail safety was compromised."

Subsequent to a report in the The Hindu on December 8 on the Railway Ministry's "go slow'' move in finalising the Action Taken Report (ATR) on the Commission's report which should be tabled in Parliament by January 15, 2005, an official release by the Ministry attempted to gave a clean chit to the Chairman of the Railway Board, R.K. Singh, who headed the Track Directorate from April 1996 to November 1997.

"Mr. Singh was Executive Director in the Track Directorate from April 1996 to November 1997 only. He has had, thus, no relationship with the cause of the Khanna rail accident," the release said.

Even before the ATR has been finalised and tabled in Parliament — a mandatory requirement under the Commission of Inquiry Act — the Ministry has taken a view.

It said: "Further, to mention that the main role of the Track Directorate of Railway Board is to lay down the specifications for the rails from time to time, whenever relaxation in the hydrogen content of liquid steel has been granted to the Bhilai steel plant for supply of rails, it has been done with the clear provision that slow cooling of bloom and slow cooling of rails should strictly be ensured to finally contain the hydrogen content within the limits in the solid rail."

However, the Garg Commission Report on Page no. 199 says: "Even after May 1997, the Railways for reasons best known to it, granted dispensation in the matter of hydrogen rating in rails and the rail steel from time to time." Letters of April 10, 1997, June 6, 1997, July 22, 1997, July 30, 1997 and October 8, 1997 have come on record (Annexure 17). These letters clearly show that hydrogen rating up to 5.5 ppm in rail steel have been permitted to the proviso that the bloom shall be slow cooled. Hydrogen rating in rail steel even up to six ppm had been granted for some time in place of three ppm or less. The crucial question is why dispensation in rail steel and the rails were withdrawn after the Khanna accident, if they were found to be correct and safe.

Page no. 203: "It was well within the knowledge of the Railway Board, the Track Directorate that the quality of rails supplied by the Bhilai steel plant were substandard and not as per the specifications.''

Page no. 262: "Cause and Responsibilities — The accident occurred primarily on account of failure of material. I would hold the Railways Directorate of Track Procurement to be primarily responsible for not ensuring production of quality rails, for granting relaxation in the production of rail steel and the rails and for not making available USFD machines for a long time to the field staff.''

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