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Missing the wood for trees: Blame the unmanned crossing; not the bus driver
About two dozen children were killed when a passenger train rammed into a private school bus at an unmanned railway crossing on 21st July 2014 at Masaipet village in Telangana's Medak district. Driver and cleaner of the bus too died.

It was reported that while moving past the level crossing, the bus driver failed to notice the approaching passenger train. The attached photograph showing a mother hugging her two dead children has been haunting this writer for days together.

Villagers allege that there was no one at the railway gate and this resulted in the accident. Railway authorities, for reasons best known to them, had left the gate works unfinished at the level crossing. Villagers alleged that they had brought to the notice of railway officials, the need for a railway gate to avoid accidents.

They alleged that several accidents had occurred at the spot in the past. For them, it is a reminder of the September 25, 1998 incident in which as many as 19 villagers, including 12 school children, were killed when a train hit an APSRTC bus at an unmanned crossing at a nearby village.

Investigators are looking into the charge that the bus driver was talking over mobile phone while going past the crossing. Others held the view that a concrete structure built by the railways for the guards blocked the view of the approaching train resulting in the accident.

Railways Minister told the Lok Sabha that the accident happened due to the negligence of the driver of the school bus. The driver did not stop the bus at the stop board just before the level crossing to check for the approaching train, the Minister said.

By blaming the bus driver, the minister tries to escape from the criminal liability of his department. British made railways in India providing thousands of unmanned crossings to save money. Indians lives were not precious for them. There are still about 15000 unmanned crossings existing in India. Are the native rulers any different from the colonial masters?

Railways' criminality does not end with unmanned crossings. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act was passed by the Union govt in 1993. This Act prohibits employment of manual scavengers as well as construction or continuance of dry latrines.

Should railways be not prosecuted for violating the law for two decades on three counts: (1) Engaging manual scavengers, a dehumanising crime (2) Construction of dry latrines and (3) Continuance of dry latrines?

Less said about the horrifying conditions in which the unreserved passengers travel like insects, the better.

Railway is gearing up to install bullet trains at an astronomical cost of Rs 50, 000 crore for the privileged few. But we are told paucity of fund is the reason for continuing with the killing/dehumanising minefields like unmanned crossings, manual scavenging and unpardonable conditions in unreserved compartments.

Last but not the least. RTE Act mandates the state to provide quality uniform primary education at state's cost to all children in the neighbourhood schools. Children are herded into unsafe transports and carried to long distances for getting primary education at the cost of poor parents and to fatten the bellies of education sellers. The state and railways are squarely responsible for the gruesome death of children at the unmanned crossing.

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