AMRITSAR: A day after the horrific train accident near Amritsar that killed at least 59 Dussehra revellers, and left over 70 injured, all stakeholders — from the local lawmaker and Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu to the local corporation to the railways ministry — tried to deflect blame.
Amid frayed tempers from a hostile crowd, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh sought to buy time by ordering a magisterial probe. The railways though refused to take action against the train driver. Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani blamed the local authorities for not giving a heads up on the Dussehra event near the tracks.
“At midsections, trains run at their assigned speed and people are not expected to be on the tracks,” he reasoned, pointing out the gateman was 400 metres away from the site of the accident at a level crossing.
The train’s speedometer had recorded 91 kmph when the first impact happened. In his disclosure statement, train driver Arvind said he tried to reduce the speed on spotting the crowd. But since it was stoned, he didn’t bring it to a full stop so as to protect passengers.
Sidhu, whose wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu was the chief guest at the Ramleela event, complicated matters further saying the accident was an Act of God while deflecting criticism aimed at his wife for exiting the scene instead of helping the victims. For her part, Navjot Kaur pointed fingers at the railways claiming the gateman should have asked train driver to slow down.
While the organisers claimed they had police permission for the event, the Amritsar Municipal Corporation, the health department and the fire brigade had not given clearance. Sources said the police gave permission as the organising committee was led by Saurabh Mithu Madan, son of area councillor Vijay Madan, who is close to Sidhu.
Amid all the gloom, there were stories of sheer grit as well. Like that of Dalbir Singh (24), who helped save many lives as he dragged out revellers who were oblivious to the rushing train before he was crushed to death. Dalbir had played Ravana in the Ramleela that day.
Amid the outpouring of grief, the remains of 39 of the 59 victims, including children, were consigned to flames at different cremation grounds in the city on Saturday. Most victims hailed from UP and Bihar.
Looked like Partition rerun, says eyewitness
With dismembered limbs of the train accident victims strewn all around, it appeared like a Partition rerun, recalled an eyewitness. During Partition, millions were butchered in mindless communal violence on both sides of the border