Commission of Railway Safety (CRS)
Why in news:
- Investigation into the recent tragic train accident in Odisha, the deadliest train crash in India in over two decades, is being conducted by the Commissioner of Railway Safety for the south-eastern circle.
- Rail safety commissioners are part of the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS), a government body that acts as the railway safety authority in the country.
- As the name suggests, CRS deals with matters related to safety of rail travel and operations, among some other statutory functions inspectorial, investigatory, and advisory as laid down in the Railways Act, 1989.
- Investigating serious train accidents is one of the key responsibilities of the CRS, which is headquartered in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
- It is, however, worth noting that the CRS does not report to the Ministry of Railways of the Railway Board.
- It is, in fact, under the administrative control of the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA).
- The reason or principle behind this, put simply, is to keep the CRS insulated from the influence of the country’s railway establishment and prevent conflicts of interest.
Early days of railways in India and safety oversight:
- The first railways in India came into being in the 1800s and were constructed and operated by private companies.
- At the time, the British Indian government appointed ‘consulting engineers’ for effective control and oversight of the developing railway network and operations.
- Their job was to ensure efficiency, economy, and safety in railway operations in India.
- Later, when the British Indian government undertook construction of railways in the country, the consulting engineers were re-designated as ‘government inspectors’, and in 1883, their position was recognised statutorily.
- In the first decade of the twentieth century, the Railway Inspectorate was placed under the Railway Board, which was established in 1905.
- As per the Indian Railway Board Act, 1905, and a notification by the then Department of Commerce and Industry, the Railway Board was entrusted with powers and functions of the government under various sections of the Railway Act and was also authorised to make rules for railway operations in India.
- This effectively made the Railway Board the safety controlling authority for railways in India.
Separation of safety supervision function and Railway Board – The groundwork:
- The Government of India Act, 1935 said that functions for securing the safety of railway operations, both for the travelling public and personnel operating the railways, should be performed by an authority independent of the federal railway authority or the Railway Board.
- These functions included conducting railway accident probes.
- But due to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the idea did not take off and the Railway Inspectorate continued to function under the control of the Railway Board.
- In 1939, a panel headed by the then chief inspecting officer of the British Railways, A.H.L. Mount, said that the separation of the Railway Inspectorate from the Railway Board was “very desirable”.
- In its report, the panel also noted that the Railway Board was appreciative of the separation argument and “would welcome the change”.
Transfer of Railway Inspectorate from Railway Board’s control:
- In 1940, the Central Legislature endorsed the idea and principle of separation of the Railway Inspectorate from the Railway Board, and recommended that the senior government inspectors of the railways should be placed under the administrative control of a different authority under the government.
- Consequently, in May 1941, the Railway Inspectorate was separated from the Railway Board and put under the administrative control of the then Department of Posts and Air.
- Since then, the Inspectorate, which was re-designated as the CRS in 1961, has been under the control of the central ministry exercising control over civil aviation in India.