New Delhi: Expressing shock and grief at the loss of lives in the train accident in Odisha, opposition leaders on Saturday stressed the importance of prioritising the safety of passengers by railways, while there were also demands to fix accountability and for the resignation of Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
The accident involving two passenger trains and a goods train in Odisha’s Balasore district killed at least 288 people and injured more than 1000, in one of the worst railway tragedies in the country.
The Congress said the “horrendous” train accident in Odisha reinforces why safety should always be the foremost priority in the functioning of the rail network and asserted that there are many questions to ask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Railway Minister Vaishnaw but those can wait as the immediate task was of rescue and relief.
RJD chief and former railway minister Lalu Prasad claimed that sheer negligence has caused the train tragedy and alleged that the BJP-led government at the Centre has “destroyed” the railways.
In a video statement, Kharge said it was the time to stay united and pointed out that several state governments have come forward to help out with the rescue efforts in Odisha, including the Siddaramaiah-led Karnataka government.
“I want to ask the PM and the Railway Minister that it should be found out how this happened and who is responsible. We always talk about safety but still such an incident happened which had not happened in the history of railways.
“But all this can be discussed later as now it is the time to be united and support the central government and for all leaders to come together to help the people and share their grief,” Kharge said.
Several Congress leaders from different states have either already reached or will soon be reaching Balasore, he said and extended heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families.
“We have many questions to ask of the prime minister and the railway minister but those can wait since the immediate task is of rescue and relief,” Kharge said earlier.
Congress general secretary in-charge communications Jairam Ramesh said the train accident in Odisha is a matter of the greatest anguish.
“It reinforces why SAFETY should always be the foremost priority in the functioning of the rail network. There are many legitimate questions that need to be raised but that should wait till tomorrow,” Ramesh tweeted.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is a former railway minister, flew to the accident site on Saturday afternoon and demanded a proper investigation.
“This is the biggest train accident of this century and a proper investigation must be conducted,” the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief told reporters.
“Something must be behind this. The truth must come out. Why didn’t the anti-collision system work?” Banerjee said
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited the accident site and was briefed by Railway Minister Vaishnaw, said no one would be spared and strong action would be taken against those found guilty.
“Instructions have been given to ensure proper and speedy investigation of the tragedy,” Modi said, adding that more focus will be given to the security of rail passengers.
Meanwhile, TMC spokesperson Saket Gokhale said there were serious questions about the accident that needed to be answered and demanded the railway minister’s resignation.
The shocking train crash in Balasore, Odisha, last night could have been prevented by a functioning anti-collision system, he said and alleged that BJP is more focussed on “Modi’s Vande Bharat PR & photo-ops instead of safety”.
“Union Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw must resign immediately if he has any conscience or sense of responsibility and shame left in him,” Gokhale said.
The railways have said that “Kavach” – the automatic train protection system – was not available on the route where the accident occurred on Friday evening.
CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya too raised the same question. “Do we no longer have any signalling and safety system in Indian railways? Or will such terrible tragedies become the new normal for rail travel in India? We owe an answer to the victims and to the families who lost their near and dear ones in this mishap,” he said in a tweet.
The CPI and RJD also demanded that Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw resign over the incident.
“Government concentrates only on luxury trains. Trains and tracks of common people are neglected. Orissa deaths are the result of it. Rail minister should resign,” CPI MP Binoy Viswam said in a tweet.
RJD chief said Lalu Prasad said,”I extend my heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families. A high-level inquiry must be ordered to find out the reason behind the accident, and also fix the responsibilities.”
“The government at the Centre has completely destroyed Indian Railways. They are least bothered about the safety of the passengers. It’s sheer negligence on the part of the railway authorities,” he told reporters.
Some Congress leaders also called for Vaishnaw’s resignation.
Tagging a tweet by Vaishnaw on ex-gratia compensation to victims of the accident, Congress’ MP from Odisha Saptagiri Ulaka said, “You should resign first.”
Ask some person to investigate the reason for this mishap and do course corrections, as well as ensure support to the injured, the MP said.
“Avoid such insensitive tweets at times of pain, anger and deep personal loss,” Ulaka said.
The accident highlights the infrastructural deficiencies of the Railways and lapses in passenger safety, Bihar minister and JD(U) leader Sanjay Kumar Jha said, noting that Nitish Kumar had resigned as railway minister in August 1999 taking moral responsibility for the Gasel train
Gurdeep Singh Sappal, co-ordinator in the Congress president’s office, said, “Resignation in such cases is expected not just on moral grounds. Resignation is also a means to ensure that those in power and accountable for the accident do not influence such ‘high-level inquiry’.”
“That’s why the norm is that the officers in the chain of command are suspended and the minister resigns!” he said.
Congress parliamentary party chairperson Sonia Gandhi said she was most pained and anguished by the terrible train disaster in Odisha.
“I extend my deepest sympathy and condolences to all the bereaved families,” she said in a statement.
Kharge and former party chief Rahul Gandhi on Friday night expressed sadness over the tragedy and urged party workers and leaders to extend all support needed for the rescue efforts.
President of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, JP Nadda, in a tweet said the BJP has decided to postpone all its programmes marking the completion of nine years of its government at the Centre in the wake of the accident.
The Tamil Nadu government cancelled all official programmes including the centenary celebration of former chief minister and Dravidian stalwart M Karunanidhi on Saturday in view of the train tragedy.