Daily Times Editorial 1 November 2019

From the ashes of the train


The Tezgam tragedy underscores the need to regulate train passenger safety and hauling of inflammable material in trains and vehicles. Over 70 people died and more than 30 were injured in three compartments of the Karachi to Rawalpindi Tezgam train near Liaqatpur city in Bahawalpur. The train fire site is a couple of miles from Ahmedpur East, another place where an oil tanker overturned and ensuing fire burnt 125 people in June 2017. According to officials, the running train caught fire when a gas cylinder exploded and its fire and impact triggered a series of explosions as several other cylinders and kerosene oil-powered stoves were present in the bogies, mostly packed with the group of a Raiwind congregation. Victims also include other passengers, including women and children, who could never make it to their destination mainly due to negligence of the congregation members and railway staff. As per Railway Minister Sheikh Rasheed, Tableghi Jamaat activists were preparing breakfast in the running train when the explosion occurred.
Soon, statements of condemnation and announcements of compensation will overshadow the tragedy. But this is actually the time to work to improve passenger safety. So far, rail compartments have been open to accommodate the passengers with reserved seats and ticketless passengers with their luggage, which are never weighed and checked. Despite clear warning signs prohibiting smoking, the warning is flouted flagrantly. Learning lessons from the train tragedy, the railways authorities should start a strict regime of luggage checking prior to letting commuters on the trains. There should be fire alarms and extinguishers installed in bogies and train staff should be properly trained for such emergencies. Passengers violating fire regulations should be penalised without any leniency. In recent days, the railways have been in news for one accident or another but there has been no fire related incident in a running rail in recent memory.
Earlier, in January this year, the fire which broke out in the wake of a collision between a bus and an oil tanker left 27 passengers burnt beyond recognition. Had that tragedy provoked some official measures, the Tezgam tragedy would have been averted. At the very least, the right lessons must be learnt from this tragedy.


Trick of traders


As predicted, the beleaguered government has caved into demands from protesting traders, and accepted many of their conditions. Following an agreement between the government and traders’ representatives that certain tax measures would be eased and the condition of Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) for buyers and sellers put on hold for three months, traders ended their nationwide strike. The 11-point agenda, hailed as win-win for both the government and traders, shows, in fact, signs of weakness on part of the government, and is likely to hamper its efforts to widen the tax net, document the economy and meet the revenue collection target.
The agreement allows the traders with a turnover of Rs100 million to give 0.5 per cent turnover tax rather than the 1.5 per cent originally set by the government. Traders earning a profit of Rs100 million will be exempted from withholding tax, while sales tax registration will be enforced on those traders whose electricity bill is more than Rs1.2 million per annum, in place of the earlier figure of Rs600,000. The agreement does not settle the impasse as some issues are to be settled in coming weeks. One such issue is the turnover tax for low profit-making sectors, which will be set in consultation with a committee of traders and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). Similarly, FBR will be dealing with jewelers in consultation with their associations. The Bureau and traders will work out issues related to fixed tax on shops as per their size. Traders won sales tax exemption for shops smaller than 1,000 square feet.
Traders have made the most by exploiting the embattled government in the Azadi March days. As an IMF delegation is in Islamabad these days, the cost of the agreement is likely to come under discussion. The documentation-shy community of traders should be dealt with sternly. As they have been forcing government after government to give up the idea of traders’ documentation, it is time to make legislation about business rules. The government has fared well in introducing ease of doing business measures; now, it should work on business ethics as well. *

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