Tragedy in a town named Kushinagar

Aditya Aamir

To wake up to the headline ‘Tragedy in Kushinagar’ doesn’t give anybody ‘Kushi’. Add to that the number ‘13’ and ‘superstition’ drops anchor. Last heard, ‘13’ was still an unlucky number. And 13 children died in Kushinagar when their school bus was blown off the tracks by a rushing train at an unmanned level crossing in Uttar Pradesh Thursday morning. Happiness fled Kushinagar. Such an unhappy name for a town in grief.
There is an opportunity here to provide jobs to wayward unemployed youth. Give them the responsibility to man unmanned level crossings 24/7. That means a ‘shift system’ which translates to at least four persons getting employment per level crossing. Count the number of unmanned level crossings and multiply! Wayward unemployed youth will get a paid-job, a red flag and a green flag to save lives.
But level crossings are the jurisdiction of the Railways. Section 161 of the Railway Act says this: “If any person driving or leading a vehicle is negligent in crossing an unmanned level crossing, he shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to one year.” In other words it is the driver’s duty to make sure no train was coming at breakneck speed to mangle a bus or a truck, any motor vehicle, at a level crossing.
Add to that the instruction contained in Section 131 of the Motor Vehicles Act: “Every driver of a motor vehicle at the approach of any unguarded railway level crossing shall cause the vehicle to stop and the driver of the vehicle shall cause the conductor or cleaner or attendant to walk up to the level crossing and ensure that no train or trolley is approaching from either side and then pilot the motor vehicle across such level crossing…”
It can be assumed with certainty that no such precaution was taken at the level crossing in Kushinagar by the driver of the school bus. Was he even aware of Section 161 of the Railway Act or Section 131 of the Motor Vehicles Act? In most probability, he is a driver who got the job because he came with the school bus. Literate enough to read road signs but not educated enough to get the hang of level crossings.
The school should also share the blame. Schools charge a hefty fee to transport children to the temples of education they mint money with in buses they own or hire. But they leave to fate and to the drivers and cleaners the journey to and fro. The coincidence in the Kushinagar tragedy is that the school involved is named ‘Divine Public School’. With a name like that and no divine intervention!
But accidents at level crossings are a universal bane. As many as 6,000 people die every year in accidents at level crossings worldwide. In India, 61% of railway-related fatalities happen at unmanned level crossings. At last count there were out of 30,000 level crossings in the country, 11,000 were unmanned. Off and on, the Indian Railways sends out a hoot that steps are being taken to address the issue including ‘eliminating’ unmanned level crossings, but that it is a slow process.
There was talk of linking up with ISRO to beat the problem, and quite many trains have been installed with ISRO-chips. Railways have also posted ‘Gate Mitras’ at level crossings. Some unmanned level crossings too have ‘Gate Mitras’ but they don’t have ‘huts’ to stay. More than 4,000 ‘Gate Mitras’ have been deployed at unmanned level crossings to prevent accidents. Gate Mitras get a reflector jacket, flags and an identity card. Most of them are provided shelters at the crossings but not all.
Meanwhile, ‘Passenger Train 55075’ which sent the Divine Public School bus cartwheeling arrived at Gorakhpur without further mishaps. If the train was equipped with the ISRO-chip it would have sent a loud hoot as it approached the unmanned level crossing at Kushinagar, and maybe the driver would have stopped short of the railway tracks.
They say the driver of Kushinagar school bus was warned by a ‘Gate Mitra’ to ‘Stop, 55075 is hurtling’ but he didn’t take heed and the school bus stalled right on the track. CM Yogi Adityanath said there were questions about the driver’s age and that he was driving with the earplugs of his mobile stuck to his ears. The Railways has ordered a high-level enquiry.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing BJP cadre of Karnataka using the Namo App, mentioned Kushinagar and expressed his ‘sadness’ and conveyed his ‘condolences’. But mostly he spoke of ‘Congress Lollipops’ to the people of Karnataka. Now, we all know the lollipop, besides being a ‘nothing’, is also a child’s delight. The 13 Kushinagar children will never again smile their excitement at being handed a lollipop! Life sucks. (IPA)

Wednesday, 2 May, 2018