Way back in 1999, when the prototype of an indigenous anti-collision device (ACD) was first tested in Goa, Mamata Banerjee was the railways minister. Next year, she travelled on a locomotive fitted with the prototype and approved its implementation for the Konkan Railway. Here we are a decade later; while the ACD is reportedly working with 99.9% efficiency in the Konkan corridor, it has yet to be implemented countrywide. Had that happened, the Goa-Sampark Express may not have rammed into the Mewar Express near Mathura last week, killing 22 and calling railways safety into question once again. We hadnt even begun to grapple with why the Mathura accident happened or what it said about negligence by personnel or about unreliable equipment, when the Rajdhani imbroglio occurred. An already unstable situation is now layered with Maoist nitroglycerine. A Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express was reined in around Bhubaneswar for over seven hours by PCAPA rebels demanding the release of their leader Chhatradhar Mahato, among other things. As much trouble as the passengers endured, things could have gotten much worse if the rebels had proved more obdurate. Because, in the end, they gave way before the crisis escalated. Nitish Kumar, Bihar CM & former Union railways minister, said that the vast railways network across the country makes it very, very difficult for the Centre and the states to provide security along all the tracks. There are two security issues we must address here, one concerning the railways machinery and the other concerning the Maoist apparatus. On both fronts, the states failures have been indefensible. Anchoring the two together is minister Mamata.
She is asking for Presidents rule in her state once again. What she will have a hard time tackling is that the group that stopped the Rajdhani, the PCAPA, is one that enjoyed her partys support until a short period ago. Brickbatting between the CPM and Mamata, therefore, looks likely to put safety on the backburner once again. Meanwhile, two side-effects are likely to be exacerbated. First, the Maoist factor will keep taking an increasing toll on industrybeyond the railwaysif its not reined in. For example, about 66% of Indias new steel capacity in the next decade is expected to come from Orissa and Jharkhand, but this wont come to pass if the Maoists have their way. Second, specifically on the railways front, a comparison with China is saddening. The rail revolution there is being compared to Americas transcontinental transformation in the 19th centurysafer, speedier trains are helping to even out development across the country. In India, meanwhile, signalmen and stationmasters are still warding off all dangers with green flags.