On Thursday morning, a school van packed with children was hit by a passenger train in UP's Kushinagar district resulting in the death of 13 kids. The driver, it was reported, was busy speaking on his earphone while passing through the unmanned level crossing, and he failed to either notice the oncoming train or listen to the screams of children and passersby. A tragedy of such magnitude took place only because of sheer negligence of the driver, who himself died in the collision.
Leaders may express sympathy, officials may inquire, action may be taken against a few persons, and people at large may forget this mishap after a few days. But my heart cries out for those parents who lost their children. The government has granted ex-gratia assistance to these families, but this alone cannot mitigate the grief of the parents.
We should all think about how to prevent such accidents. Such mishaps cannot be prevented by making law, or posting staff at railway crossings. We should create awareness about the need to avoid using earphones while driving or walking across railway tracks.
For the last three decades, I have been hearing every Railway Minister promising to do away with unmanned level crossings, and funds are allocated for the same. I do not think this is such a gigantic task which cannot be completed in thirty years. On Thursday, Railway Board chairman Ashwini Lohani said that there were 3,470 unmanned level crossings across India.
This figure is only for broadgauge railway tracks. This month, the government in a written reply in Lok Sabha had said that there are more than 7,000 unmanned level crossings. Piyush Goyal is the Railway Minister, and I have no doubts about his efficiency, because as Power Minister he had almost completed electrification of 18,000 villages in India. I hope, as Railway Minister, he will complete this work on a war footing and help prevent such mishaps.
As for the parents and guardians of school children, my suggestion would be that they should keep close watch on such school van drivers. In most of the cases, the drivers do not have valid driving licences, and a few of them drive under the influence of alcohol. If parents notice such things, they should immediately inform the school authorities, and if the latter prevaricate, then they should approach the police.
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