The opposition parties, including Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) on Monday demanded broaching a debate over Ghotki train accident.
The lawmakers slammed the government for paying no attention to overhaul the dilapidated railway tracks, questioning why the Mainline-1 (ML-1) project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is being delayed in the wake of several train accidents.
Talking to The Express Tribune, the convener of the standing committee’s sub-committee on railways, Ramesh Lal, and MQM’s Sabir Hussain Kaim Khani admitted that the railways authorities failed to take timely action in spite of being repeatedly apprised of the poor train-safety, adding that they hoped that everything would be fixed once the ML-1 project is completed.
PPP’s Lal claimed that the Divisional Superintendent (DS) Sukkur Mian Tariq Latif had informed the committee about the dismal condition of the railway tracks in Sukkur Division a month ago, saying he had clearly told the committee that any untoward incident could talk place any day.
“Most of the accidents on railways tracks have taken place due to the government’s lack of willingness to rehabilitate the tracks in the last three years,” Lal said, adding that the government should talk about its performance instead of blaming the previous governments.
“The PTI government has not yet started work on ML-1,” he regretted, saying the government should explain the inordinate delay in initiating work on the ML-1 project.
MQM’s lawmaker reaffirmed that the DS had apprised the committee about the poor maintenance of tracks, saying he had written to the railways authorities several times but to no avail. Kaim Khani said that the DS would get the same answer to all his complaints: “We would fix the issues when the work starts on ML-1”.
During the committee’s meeting on Monday, Lal questioned “who was responsible for over 50 deaths in Daharki, especially, when the DS had already informed the high-ups about the poor condition of the railways tracks”.
However, Railway Board Secretary Mazhar Ranjha, while briefing the committee, stated that the statement of DS Sukkur was “irresponsible”, saying the ministry was not responsible for the accident and “there may be a technical fault that caused the accident.”
Taking to Twitter on Monday night, PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal accused the PTI government of delaying the ML-1 project, saying the government “wasted three years” and did not do anything. “At least the first phase should have been completed by now”.
Pakistan Railways has long been in crisis owing to various reasons. Reportedly, lack of leadership and discipline, inadequate locomotives, obsolete technology, and poor infrastructure are a few, to begin with.
Managerial failures, overstaffing, poor transport policy, slashing the budget and increasing liabilities are some of the major factors continuously contributing to the dismal condition of the rail transport system.
In addition, the reports said that the political interference, coupled with ‘nepotism and corruption’, poor maintenance of tracks and bridges and mismanagement are some other causes contributing to the failure of Pakistan Railways.
In January this year, Federal Minister for Railways Azam Khan Swati had informed the National zssembly that Pakistan Railways has been running in deficit for the last 15 years. According to the written answer, railways’ deficit was Rs3.2 billion in 2004-05, which rose to Rs9.1 billion in the next year and continued rising year after year.
The reply states that the deficit jumped from Rs12.6 billion to Rs18.6 billion in 2008 and 2009. Then, the reply states, it reached to Rs20.1 billion the next year; Rs26.9 billion in the next year and reached to Rs30.5 billion in 2012-13 -- the time PPP government was completing its tenure.During the PML-N tenure, the deficit rose to Rs32.5 billion in the first year but it was reduced to Rs27.2 billion in 2014-15.
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In the next year, it was further reduced to Rs26.9 billion. However, it jumped from Rs26.9 billion to Rs40.7 billion in 2016-17. In 2017-18, it stood at 36.6 billion.
In 2018-19 – when the PTI government came to power – the document shows that the deficit was decreased to Rs32.7 billion before it jumped to Rs50.1 billion in 2019-20.
Several attempts were made to reach DS Sukkur, railways minister as well as information minister but they could not be reached for comments.
Bilawal demands immediate probe
Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Monday also demanded launching an immediate inquiry into the Ghotki train tragedy.
He said that ever since the PTI came into power, train tragedies have become more frequent, while “government's ministers are busy doing politics over them”.
In the wake of political controversy that erupted in the aftermath of the train incident, PM Imran Khan took to Twitter to announce that the railway minister would visit the scene of the tragedy.
Chairman Bilawal said that the DS Railway in his letter had identified thirteen areas where the train tracks were deteriorating, adding that the site of Monday’s train incident was also among them.