Opposition leaders on Monday criticised the Narendra Modi-led Union government after nine passengers died and nearly 40 were injured in a train collision in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district.

The accident occurred when a goods train collided with the Sealdah-bound Kanchanjunga Express near the New Jalpaiguri railway station. Due to the collision, three rear compartments derailed.

In a social media post, Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge expressed condolences to the families of those who died and wished speedy recovery for the injured. He also demanded that immediate compensation be provided.

“In the past 10 years, the Modi government has indulged in the utter mismanagement of the Railway ministry,” said Kharge. “As a responsible Opposition, it is our bounden duty to underline how the Modi government has systematically converted the Rail Ministry into a platform of ‘camera-driven’ self-promotion!”

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi urged party workers to provide assistance in relief and rescue efforts.

He said: “The increase in railway accidents in the last 10 years is a direct result of the mismanagement and negligence of the Modi government, which results in loss of lives and property of passengers on a daily basis.”

The Sharad Pawar-led faction of the Nationalist Congress Party said that the Ministry of Railways has only been focussing on “setting up selfie booths” and “not the safety of passengers”.

The party was referring to the Central Railway’s plans to set up selfie booths featuring images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at railway stations.

In December, a Right to Information reply showed that the Centre had approved expenditure of Rs 6.25 lakh on each permanent 3D selfie booth and Rs 1.25 lakh on each temporary booth. In total, the Centre planned to spend Rs 1.62 crore on setting up photo booths at railway stations where the public can take selfies with images of Modi.

“By setting up 3D selfie booths of Modi ji in railway stations at the expense of crores of rupees, the railway administration only made Modi ji famous,” said the Nationalist Congress Party (Sharadchandra Pawar). “But the Centre did not focus on making travel comfortable. This is Modi’s unfair guarantee.”

West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee said that the railway ministry does not care about passenger amenities.

“They do not even care about railway officials, railway engineers, railway technical staff and workers,” said Banerjee. “They are also in trouble. Their old pension has been withdrawn. I am completely with the railway employees and railway officials. They are trying their best. But this government only cares about the election.”

Her party MP Derek O’Brien said that the Centre is only focussed on “vanity projects” and not safety of passengers. He also flagged a column he had written in the aftermath of a train accident in Odisha’s Balasore.

On June 2, 2023, 288 passengers were killed and around 900 injured when three trains collided with each other in Balasore.

The Indian Railways subsequently said that the Kavach, an anti-train collision system, was not available on the route in Balasore where the accident took place.

The Kavach sounds an alert when a loco pilot jumps a railway signal, a leading cause of train collisions. It automatically activates the train braking system if the driver fails to control the train as per the speed restrictions.

Corrections and clarifications: This article has been edited to reflect the latest toll. The earlier version had quoted an official who gave a higher figure.

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