Questioning the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government on the Odisha train accident, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on Monday alleged that 3 lakh posts are lying vacant in the Railways.

The accident in which three trains collided on June 2 has left 275 passengers dead and over 900 injured. A Railway official has said that preliminary findings suggest that a signalling error may have led to the accident.

Even as the Centre has ordered a Central Bureau Investigation probe into the matter, the Opposition has criticised the government, saying some serious questions needs answers.

“In fact, in the East Coast Railway – the site of this tragic accident – about 8,278 posts are vacant,” Kharge said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday. “It is the same story of apathy and negligence even in the case of senior positions, where both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Cabinet Committee play a crucial role in appointments.”

The Congress chief claimed that in the 1990s, the railway employed 18 lakh people and this figure has now been reduced to 12 lakh, out of which 3.18 lakh are employed on a contract.

“Vacant posts pose a threat to the assured jobs of people who belong to Schedule Caste, Schedule Tribe, Other Backward Class and Economic Weaker Sections,” he said. “It is a pertinent question to ask – why have such a high number of vacancies not been filled over the last 9 years?”

In his letter, Kharge also referred to the latest audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India which said that nearly three out of four train accidents between 2017-’18 and 2020-’21 were caused by derailments.

“Between 2017-’18, there was zero testing of Rail and Weld [track maintenance] for safety in East Coast Railways,” the Congress chief said. “Why were these grave red flags ignored?

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Kharge questioned the Railway Board’s decision to seek a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the reasons behind the train accident in Balasore. He said that law enforcement agencies cannot fix accountability for technical, institutional and political failures.

“The CBI is meant to investigate crimes, not railway accidents,” he said. “...In addition, they lack the technical expertise in railway safety, signalling, and maintenance practices.”

Kharge also pointed towards the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government’s decision to let the National Investigation Agency probe the 2016 train derailment in Kanpur that had resulted in the deaths of 150 passengers.

“Subsequently, you yourself claimed in an election rally in 2017 that there was a ‘conspiracy’,” Kharge said. “The nation was assured that the strictest punishment would be meted out. However, in 2018, the NIA closed the investigation and refused to file a chargesheet. The nation is still in the dark – who is responsible for 150 avoidable deaths?”