The Week That Was:

From: Vartaa Editorial Team on Jan 22, 2017

Saga of train accidents continues

The abysmal safety record of the Indian Railways was once again highlighted as another train derailment claimed precious lives of passengers. At least 39 passengers are reported dead after seven coaches of the Jagdalpur-Bhubhaneshwar express derailed in Andhra Pradesh. This is the third serious rail accident in the last 3 months which has resulted in the loss of lives of passengers aboard a train.

Taking the bull by the horns

The bull taming ritual of Jallikattu took on deep political proportions in Tamil Nadu this past week as protests erupted all across the state demanding the overturning of the ban that the Supreme Court had imposed on the exercise in 2014. All political parties expediently heeded the call of the 'will of the people' and 'Tamil culture' and the Tamil Nadu government went so far as to promulgate an ordinance to bypass the Supreme Court ruling. By the end of the week, the one officially sponsored Jallikattu function had been conducted and in other such functions across the state, 2 people had lost their lives and 28 others had been injured.

Emabattled cycle gets a helping 'hand' in UP

The Samajwadi Party and the Congress finally clinched an alliance for the UP assembly polls this past week with both parties agreeing on a seat sharing arrangement. While the Samajwadis will contest around 300 seats, the Congress has been granted 103 seats in the assembly polls. While the Congress was quick to publically announce the alliance, UP CM Akhilesh Yadav was busy taking jibes at the Gandhi family, indicating how rough the partnership may eventually be. The BJP was quick to call out the alliance as evidence of both parties' weaking support in UP.

Opinions you must read:

  • Swaminathan Aiyar wonders whether PM Modi has done enough to clinch the UP polls for BJP.
  • The Mint argues that full benefits of GST can only be reaped once connectivity between Indian states becomes seamless.
  • Read this historical piece to know about how the US government bailed out India during a currency crisis in the 20th century.

Chart of the Week

In what has started to become a macabre routine, another train derailed on Saturday killing 39. The incident happened in Vizianagaram district of Andhra Pradesh and the train involved was the Jagdalpur-Bhubaneshwar Express. Only 2 months ago, on November 20, 2016, the Indore-Rajendra Nagar Express derailed near Kanpur resulting in 150 deaths. A host of reasons is behind these accidents including poor and outdated infrastructure, an overburdened rail network, and lack of safety training. A combination of these and the fact that over 23 million Indians use the railways daily make the Indian Railways Network deadly.

Make no mistake, the railways are still 5X safer than roads. But the frequent accidents have resulted in a big toll over the years. You can see just how big in this week's chart. Per the Ministry of Railways, just over 4,000 people died on the railways in 2013- the latest year for which data is available. Deaths rose significantly from 2006 through 2009 and have somewhat steadied in recent years. Railway passengers are still a small minority (~5%) of the overall deaths. A large majority of unfortunate victims are on the tracks.

These accidents highlight the pressing need for modernization of Indian Railways. A major effort will not only help curb deadly accidents but will also improve affordable access for millions of city-bound Indians.