NEW DELHI: Cracking the whip over negligence in the railways that has repeatedly embarrassed the government, the railway ministry on Sunday sent on leave the top brass including a member of the railway board for the Utkal Express derailment.
Stung by the accident and criticism of opposition parties, the ministry sent member (engineering) railway board Aditya Kumar Mittal, general manager (GM) Northern Railways R K Kulshrestha and divisional railway manager (DRM) R N Singh on leave till further orders.
Mittal was going to retire at the end of this month, but the strict action will send signal to top officials about zero tolerance towards accidents.
Four officers, including senior divisional engineer, Delhi division, were suspended while the chief track engineer was transferred.
Railway minister Suresh Prabhu had earlier today asked the railways to fix responsibility for the accident that claimed over 20 lives on Saturday. The accident seemed to have happened because the Kalinga Utkal express crew was not told about the maintenance work on the track.
The railways admitted to negligence and ground-level lapses that may have derailed the Haridwar-bound train.
The move came at a time railway minister Suresh Prabhu is under attack by opposition parties over rising accidents and was under pressure to act.
In the morning, Prabhu asked chairman railway board (CRB) A K Mittal to fix responsibility for the Utkal Express accident by evening. In a tweet Prabhu said, “Will not allow laxity in operations by the Board. Have directed CRB to fix responsibility on prima facie evidence by end of day.”
TOI had reported that the driver of the train was unaware of track maintenance being carried out at the spot where the mishap occurred on Saturday and the accident was a result of the failure and negligence by railway staff.
An official said, “This is the first time in recent history that a member who is a secretary-level officer has been punished and sent on leave. The action reflects government’s zero tolerance against accidents. In the past, actions were taken only against junior level officers.”
A criminal complaint has also been lodged against unknown people for causing deaths by negligence under IPC section 304A.
Member (traffic), railway board Mohd Jamshed said that lapses in maintenance work being carried out on the track could have caused the accident.
Meanwhile, an unverified telephonic conversation apparently between two railway employees circulated on social media also hinted that negligence was the reason of the accident.
One of the men in the audio clip apparently posted near the accident site says that “poor patrolling” on the track where maintenance work was on was one of the causes.
“Welding work was under way at a section of the railway track … but the workers did not fix the block of the track and left it loose. Gates near the crossing were closed. A piece (of the track) was not fixed,” one of the employees is heard saying. “Neither the line, on which the work was underway, was fixed nor had they put any flag or a signboard (as a stop signal). The accident occurred due to negligence. It seems all (concerned employees) will be suspended,” he says.
Jamshed had said that the inquiry team probing the derailment would look into the 15-minute audio clip which has gone viral. Commissioner of railway safety Shailesh Kumar Pathak is going to begin his probe on Monday and the clip’s veracity will be probed, officials said.
The railways said its staff was working to clear the derailed coaches and repair the damaged tracks as all trains on the route were diverted. The operation to resume services on the track was expected to get over by Sunday night.