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The Odisha Train Accident - A Piece on the Chessboard of Politics

Nandini Roy

June 7, 2023


On Friday, the 2nd of June, 2023 the deadliest railway accident occurred near the Bahanagar Bazaar station in Odisha killing about 275 passengers and leaving more than 1000 passengers injured. While the reasons for the accident are being speculated various have come forward to blame the corrupt nature of the Indian system, with multiple politicians like the ex-railway minister Piyush Goyal claiming external interference to be responsible for the crash. The leader of the opposition in West Bengal, Suvendu Adhikari too alleged that the Trinamool Congress (TMC) was behind the Odisha train accident in which at least 275 people were killed as reported by the Hindu

With the speculations around this deadly crash floating around can we use the cases of previous train crashes like the 1999 train crash in West Bengal that killed about 300 people or the 1995 rail accident in which about 350 people were killed in Fiirozabad or the deadly rail disaster of 1981 in Bihar that resulted in about 1000 casualties to access what the various reasons playing a role in the accident could be?


1981 Bihar Rail Disaster -

The Deadly 1981 accident in Bihar caused when seven bogies of a passenger train got derailed and fell into the Baghmati river during a cyclone resulting in about 1000 deaths is India’s deadliest train accident and the second biggest in the world. While the reason speculated for the accident was the cyclone in the Balaghat region of Bihar, the weather certainly was not the reason for the Balasore accident in Odisha which involved a triple train crash between two passenger trains, the Shalimar-Chennai coromandel express, and the Yesvantpur-Howrah Express, and a freight train did not involve any derailment of a train followed by a crash. 


1995 Firozabad rail accident -

The 1995 Train accident in Firozabad killed about 350 people as a result of the Purushottam Express en route to Puri colliding with the Kalindi Express coming from Kanpur. This train accident was investigated to be a result of the Kalindi Express coming to a halt on the track after hitting a Nilgai as its brakes were damaged and then it was hit by the Purushottam Express from behind.  This train mishap was a result of a signaling error as on leaving the Firozabad station the Poroshottam Express had gotten a green signal to continue on the track on which the Kalindi Express stood due to the pure negligence of the railway officers on duty who gave the all-clear sign to the train. Furthermore as reported by Dainik Bhaskar on nearing the Kalindi Express the driver had the option of applying the emergency break however, due to the risk of the boogies toppling over each other he rammed the train into the Kalindi Express causing it to derail. This accident was a result of negligence on various parts and carelessness as it was the duty of the driver of the Kalindi Express to inform the nearest station, furthermore, despite the driver not informing the nearest Firozabad station, the officers in Firozabad should have paid attention to the red signal on the panel in the panel indicating that the Kalindi Express had stopped on the track. The 2022 Balasore railway accident does show elements from this accident as while no train had stopped on the track one of the reasons being speculated is the negligence on the part of the railway officers who should have ensured that the three trains were not on the same track.


1999 West Bengal Railway incident -

Finally, by focusing on this particular incident, we may unearth some more reasons that could have led to the unfortunate Balasore train accident in Odisha. The 1999 railway accident was a result of a clash between two trains at Gaisal, West Bengal leaving about 300 casualties. The Gaisal incident in 1990 was speculated to be another signaling issue when the Avadh Assam Express collided with the Bhramaputra mail at the railway station as both trains were using the same track due to the closure of three of the four tracks on the line. This accident like that of 1995 was a result of negligence on the part of various railway officers of which six were convicted in 2007 by the West Bengal court following a CBI inquiry.


The Balasore triple train crash, which has been called one of India’s worst train crashes with a current estimate of approximately 300 casualties and more than a thousand injured is being speculated to be a case of negligence on the part of various railway officials for not noticing or correcting the error of two trains being on the same track simultaneously. Thus, the 2023 Odisha case certainly shows a resemblance to the other two deadly train crashes of 1999 and 1995 in India triggering the agendas of corruption, inefficiency, and of such accidents being planted by political parties as hinted by the leader of the opposition in West Bengal, Suvendu Adhikari, and the ex-railway minister Piyush Goyal.


The current railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw stated in an interview that the root cause of the accident was identified to be an error in the electronic interlocking, a system used by the Indian Railways that consists of electronic components to control signals and prevent signaling errors by giving a green signal only when the route ahead is clear. This “change in the electronic interlocking system” is now being used as a political point by politicians who are claiming that since there exists a possibility of the interlocking being changed manually the accident may have been planned by other parties or politicians as a move in the chessboard of politics using the various thousands of injured and dead passengers as the pawns.


Following the train accident, the jibes that politicians are taking at each other transfer us back into the realm of how everything is used but as a political move with innocent civilians being used as chess pieces. Furthermore, the use of about 1.5 crores by the Indian Railways in the years 2017 and 2022 for the safety of trains and their passengers is being used as a loophole being used by Congress to attack the center and the party is now asking for the resignation of the Railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. Furthermore the current Bihar chief minister and the ex-Railway minister Nitish Kumar also indirectly took a jibe at the current Railway minister and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) government at the center by stating that he had resigned when the 1999 West Bengal train collision had occurred during his tenure.


The Balasore train accident has left the world stunned. It has made headlines in the country with several people still separated from their families, alive victims being found in the makeshift morgues, and thousands of passengers have been left stranded in Balasore. The horrors as described by the passengers have shaken the core of the country and the incident has ignited debates about corruption and where the money used for the establishment of safety measures went, and debates about the negligence of officers on duty thus, questioning the center about its management and efficiency.  The collapse of a 1700-crore bridge in Bihar’s Bhagalpur has further added fuel to the question of corruption and how the center is tackling that issue. 


These bridges and the Indian railways are used by millions across the country and if negligence on the part of officials and corruption continues to persist despite it being a great threat to public safety then it can be concluded that our doomsday is quite near. 

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