At least 58 people were killed as a train in Amritsar’s Joda Phatak on Friday ran into a crowd watching the burning of an effigy of Ravan, PTI reported quoting Sub-divisional Magistrate Rajesh Sharma. Around 72 injured have been admitted to a government hospital, Sharma said.
Officials fear that the toll may go up. “Exact figure is not known but it is definitely more than 50 to 60,” Amritsar Police Commissioner SS Srivastava told ANI. “We are still evacuating people.”
Dussehra celebrations were being held along railway tracks when the accident took place. The train was en route to Amritsar from Jalandhar.
At least 300 people were at the spot watching the celebrations. Officials said as the effigy was lit and fireworks went off, the crowd started moving towards the railway tracks. Two trains arrived from the opposite direction at the same time giving the people standing on the tracks little time to escape, PTI reported, quoting officials.
Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Singh said people standing near the railway track did not hear the sound of the approaching train as firecrackers were bursting at the same time, ANI reported.
The Indian Railways issued helpline numbers in wake of the accident: 0183-2223171 and 0183-2564485. Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said he has cancelled all engagements in the United States and is immediately returning back to India. “May God give strength to the bereaved and injured,” he said on Twitter. “Railways is proving all possible assistance at the site.”
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has asked home secretary, health secretary and additional director general of police (law and order) to rush to Amritsar. The chief minister set up arisis management group to monitor the relief and rehabilitation efforts. The group is led by Health Minister Brahm Mohindra, and has Revenue Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, Technical Education Minister Charanjit S Channi as members. The state government declared a two-day mourning in Punjab starting Saturday. All offices and educational institutions will remain closed, ANI reported.
Singh said he was rushing to Amritsar to personally supervise relief and rescue operations. “My government will give Rs 5 lakh to kin of each deceased and free treatment to injured in government and private hospitals,” he said on Twitter. “District authorities have been mobilised on war footing.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences. “Extremely saddened by the train accident in Amritsar,” he said on Twitter. “The tragedy is heart-wrenching. My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and I pray that the injured recover quickly. Have asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required.”
The prime minister approved Rs 2 lakh for the family of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for those injured in the accident.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said he was “pained beyond words” at the loss of lives in the tragedy. “I spoke to home secretary of Punjab and DGP of the state regarding the train accident in Amritsar,” Singh said on Twitter. “They are rushing to the spot. Centre is ready to provide all possible assistance to the state at this hour of grief.”