Railway officials have said that the accident on Friday that claimed 59 lives could have been averted if they had been informed about the Dussehra celebrations held on a ground adjacent to the tracks.
The police, however, were reportedly informed about the plan for the celebration, ANI reported. Assistant Sub-Inspector Daljeet Singh had replied to the Dussehra committee’s request for permission in a letter stating that his department had no objection to the celebration.
Chairman of Railway Board Ashwani Lohani said the accident took place at a midsection between Amritsar and Manawala railway stations and not at a level crossing, PTI reported. “There was no information and no permission sought from us,” he said.
“At midsections, trains run at their assigned speeds and people are not expected to be on the tracks,” he said, adding that railway staff are not posted at midsections. “We have staff at the level crossings whose job is to regulate traffic,” he said, explaining why railway staff had not raised an alert about the crowd on the tracks.
Lohani said the if the driver had applied emergency brakes, it could have been a bigger tragedy.
Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha told ANI that train drivers or loco pilots are given specific instructions on where to slow down. “There was a curve, driver couldn’t have seen it,” he said. “About what should we order an inquiry? Trains travel in speed only.”
Amritsar Station Superintendent Alok Mehrotra agreed with Lohani. “If we had been informed about the Dussehra event being conducted near the railway crossing, then we could have cautioned the driver and the guard of the train to slow down and the accident could have been avoided,” he told The Indian Express.
Mehrotra said railway officials are not at fault because the “down signals for the crossing were given” and the gates at Joda Pathak crossing were closed. He said the train was travelling at its normal speed. “People watching the Dussehra celebrations should have not have been standing on the train tracks,” he said.
Mehrotra said people who were watching the effigy burn may have been confused “as there were two trains that crossed the point at the same time”.
“It does not appear that the loco driver was at fault in the incident,” said Northern Railway chief public relations officer, according to ANI. “Amritsar-Howrah Mail had passed the same spot two minutes before the accident occurred.”
Northern Railway spokesperson Deepak Kumar said the line was clear but people moved on to the tracks when firecrackers burst once the effigy of Ravan was set on fire.
Kumar said 37 trains have been and 16 trains diverted on Saturday following the accident. He said 18 trains were terminated before arriving at the destination.
CM orders magisterial inquiry
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday ordered a magisterial inquiry into the train accident after he visited the families of those who were killed in the accident, PTI reported. Singh said the divisional commissioner of Jalandhar will lead the inquiry and a report has to be submitted in four weeks.
Singh announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the families of people killed in the accident. The government will bear the medical expenses of those injured in the incident, he said.
The chief minister has directed Home Secretary NS Kalsi to prepare detailed guidelines for permission to hold religious and social congregations to avoid such tragedies in future, ANI reported.
But the Opposition Shiromani Akali Dal attacked the state government. “The present government is taking the accident lightly, as the chief minister is saying that the inquiry report will come after four weeks,” party leader Sukbhir Singh Badal said. “A first information report should be registered based on the statements of the victims. Inquiry should be done by independent agency.”
Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Sambit Patra claimed it was a case of death by negligence. “It was quite shocking,” he said. “There was an administrative failure on the part of the Punjab government...the BJP demands justice for all those who have died or are injured.”
Condolences pour in
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered condolences to the families of those who died in the accident, ANI reported. “I ask to convey my words of sympathy [and] support to families [and] friends of killed people & to wish soonest recovery to those injured.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres termed the incident tragic, according to PTI. “My heart goes to all in Amritsar following Friday’s tragic accident,” he said.
Canadian President Justin Trudeau offered condolences. “My thoughts are with everyone who has lost a loved one in the tragic train crash in Amritsar, India,” he tweeted.
Pakistan President Imran Khan said he was saddened about the “tragic train accident”.