Why is it the case that our policymakers and legislative bodies often the times prioritise the least important factors and issues while trying to mend the things? The latest example is the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on Railways. The body has stressed the need for the railway staff to undergo medical and psychological tests to ensure their fitness. It is not to suggest that these recommendations are entirely unnecessary. But, here is a question worth asking. How many accidents and tragedies can Pakistan Railways (PR) avert by the added emphasis of the senate committee on things and protocols that are already well-established practices in its operations?

Sadly, the committee avoided discussing the actual issues that the PR is facing. The recommendations of the committee make one feel like the drivers are the main reason for the accidents and tragedies that the vehicles of the PR meet. The committee, as we know, has not talked about the negligence of the authorities that failed to improve the passenger safety protocols. The body did not say anything about the optics dear to our Railway Minister Sheikh Rasheed.

The Railway Minister is launching one route after another. The PR unfazed by the increasing accidents has recently announced to launch five more freight trains. For what reasons? No hard guess! Political gains trump all other considerations. Only last month the PR officials told the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Railways that six of the ten newly launched passenger trains were running in losses. This was done despite railway officials expressing alarm regarding the fact that fifteen per cent of the coaches supposed to be kept in reserve are being used to start these routes. The recommendation, it seems, fell on deaf ears.

The Senate committee, while recommending physical and mental health protocols for the drivers, failed to consider the proceedings of NA’s committee on railways. Hence, instead of coming up with a more comprehensive set of recommendations and opinion, the senate body felt content by saying that drivers should undergo physical and psychological check-ups. The standing committee failed to emphasise on the need for investing more money in the railway infrastructure that is in tatters.

It is not that the government or ministry is not aware of the issues that the PR is confronting. The problem is the government’s falling for populism. Instead of making diligent use of the little money available on repairs and replacement, it wastes money on announcing new train projects. The primary task of the standing committee was to stop the government from falling for optics. And in that task, it has failed miserably.