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High Vacancies in Maintenance Staff a ‘Grave Lapse’ by Indian Railways

Arun Kumar Das |
Raising safety concerns, a Parliamentary panel found that against a sanctioned strength of 7,669, the actual staff strength was only 4,517, indicating vacancies of around 40%.
Indian Railways

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NEW DELHI: Expressing grave concern over the large scale of vacancies in the dedicated category of staff for inspection and maintenance of bridges, a parliamentary committee has said it was a "grave lapse” on the part of the Railway Ministry in ensuring safety of rail traffic.

The Standing Committee on Railways has also found that recommendations of Kakodkar Committee to strengthen rail bridges for ensuring safety in train operation has not been fully implemented even after six years of the submission of the reports by the high-level safety review committee.

The committee, headed by eminent scientist Anil Kakodkar, had submitted its reports recommending various measures regarding safety and maintenance of bridges in 2012.

 "However, even after a gap of six years, the Ministry has only partially accepted some of these recommendations," the committee headed by Trinamool Congress MP, Sudip Bandopadhyaya, observed in its latest report. 

Seeking time-bound implementation of the recommendations of the expert committee, the parliamentary panel has suggested monitoring of execution at the highest level and also sought to be apprised of any actions taken on this regard.

The Indian Railways has a staggering 1,47,523 bridges across its immense network.
Terming not filling up vacancies as a “grave lapse” on the part of the Railways to ensure safety, the committee found that against a sanctioned strength of 7,669, the actual staff strength was only 4,517, indicating vacancies of around 40% in the category.

 Lack of manpower has negatively affected the inspection routine, most acutely in the Northeast Frontier zone, the panel observed.

The bridges are the most vulnerable link on the railways and lack of manpower in this segment is bound to create gaps in inspection and maintenance which may compromise railway safety, the 13-member committee noted.

Seeking immediate action to fill up the vacancies, the committee has directed the Rail Ministry to shake off its inertia in filling up the posts in the shortest possible time. Till the time such vacancies are filled, Ministry should take some temporary measures like filling the posts, through deputations to tide over the shortage, parliamentary panel said. 

The committee, to its surprise, also found that though there were 37.689 bridges that were 100 years or older, the Railways did not classify them as a special segment and these have been kept at par with the existing modern bridges when it comes to inspections and maintenance.

These bridges have been planned for lesser loads and service conditions that have changed radically over time. Axle loads and traffic density have increased with the advent of faster and heavier trains and the safety of these bridges may be severely compromised, leading to safety failures.

The committee is also of the view that obsolete technology and materials used in the old bridges may not be compliant with modern rail paraphernalia and hence there would be requirement of a different protocol for their upkeep and sustenance.


(The writer is a free lance journalist based in Delhi.)

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