Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday said at least 59 people were killed and 57 injured when a train ran over a crowd watching the burning of an effigy of Ravan near Amritsar on Friday, reported ANI. Earlier the toll was pegged at 61.
Sub Divisional Magistrate Rajesh Sharma said the train was en route Amritsar from Jalandhar when the accident took place at Joda Phatak near Amritsar, where at least 300 people were watching the burning of a Ravan effigy at a ground adjacent to the tracks.
Raveen Thukral, media advisor to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, said initial reports suggested that people who had gathered on the ground rushed towards the tracks when fire crackers burst during the burning of the Ravana effigy. The chief medical officer at Amritsar Civil Hospital said doctors had treated at least 80 people injured in the accident, reported the Hindustan Times.
Soon after the accident, people raised slogans against Navjot Kaur Sidhu, the wife of Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was the chief guest at the event. They alleged that she left soon after the accident.
She, however, said she had left the venue before the accident. She said the railways should have ensured that trains slow down near that section of the track during such celebrations, PTI reported.
Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani said it would be wrong to blame the railway for the accident, reported ANI. “There are two manned level-crossing on that track, both were close,” Lohani said. “It is a main line. There is no speed restriction there.”
Lohani said the railway administration was not informed about the celebration near the main line. He said people were watching the Dussehra celebrations from the railway track. “People need to be more alert, they must not trespass on railway tracks,” he said.
The event was organised by Mithu Madan’s family. Mithu Madan is the son of Vijay Madan, a Congress councillor in the area.
The Amritsar Police on Friday said they had given permission for the Dussehra celebration at the Dhobi Ghat ground near Joda Phatak crossing, according to The Indian Express. The organisers, however, did not take permission from the Municipal Corporation, the health and the fire departments.
The ground where the celebrations were held is a Municipal Corporation ground. Amritsar Municipal Commissioner Sonali Giri told The Indian Express that the organisers had not sought permission from the civic body.
Amritsar Mayor Karamjit Singh Rintu said there was “negligence on part of the railways and the train’s driver as he failed to spot the crowd on the railway track”. Rintu said the organisers of the event should have approached the district administration for necessary permissions.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has ordered an inquiry into the incident and set up a crisis management group of his Cabinet colleagues, PTI reported. “I am at the moment not aware of the reasons for this Ravana effigy next to a railway station,” he said, adding that the administration will look into it.
Singh, who was scheduled to leave for Israel on Saturday evening, has postponed his trip and will fly to Amritsar on Saturday morning.