Train services resumed in Joda Phatak near Amritsar on Sunday, almost two days after two speeding trains killed 61 people during Dussehra celebrations at a ground near the railway tracks, PTI reported. “First goods train started from Manawala to Amritsar at 2.16 pm,” said Northern Railways spokesperson Deepak Kumar.
A train en route to Amritsar mowed down most of the people standing on the tracks to watch the celebrations. The second train – the Amritsar-Howrah Express – came from the opposite direction and ran over those who had jumped out of the way of the first train. Around 300 people had gathered to watch the burning of an effigy of Ravana.
Earlier in the day, protestors reportedly clashed with police personnel and threw stones and bricks after being removed from the tracks, the police said. The residents had been protesting and blocking tracks since Friday night. The protestors raised slogans against the state government and demanded the resignation of minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, The Indian Express reported. Sidhu’s wife was the chief guest at the celebrations. She claimed to have left the venue before the accident.
The protest forced the railways to cancel 27 trains since Saturday, reported the Hindustan Times. The railways diverted other trains to Tarn Taran and Beas while others were terminated at Jalandhar, said unidentified railway officials.
The protestors had threatened to block all train traffic unless action is taken against railway officials and organisers of the Dussehra committee. They also demanded that missing persons be traced and adequate compensation be paid to the kin of the dead.
Organisers did not seek permission for event
The event was organised by the family of Mithu Madan, the son of Vijay Madan, a Congress councillor in the area. The Amritsar Police on Friday said they had given permission for the celebrations at the Dhobi Ghat ground. The organisers, however, did not take permission from the municipal corporation, and the health and fire departments. Vijay Madan and her son are missing.
A group of protestors on Saturday pelted stones at the their home, breaking window panes, NDTV reported. Two policemen, including a Punjab Police commando, and a photojournalist were injured in the violence. Head Constable Amritpal Singh said the commando had received injuries to his eye, ANI reported.
Punjab Police and Rapid Action Force personnel, along with state police commandos, have been deployed to maintain law and order at the scene. They cordoned off the area and directed residents to not come out of their houses near the railway tracks.
The Government Railway Police on Saturday registered a case against unknown persons in connection with the accident. A case under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, including for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and death by negligence.
Amritsar GRP station house office Balvir Singh said names will be added to the document after the investigation. The train driver has not been arrested as he was not named in the FIR, he added. “It is too early to say anything about the accused [or] who was responsible for the mass killing on railway track,” Singh told PTI. “But during the course of investigation, many facts and causes are expected to come to light. Investigation will be conducted to find out the causes and lapses that led to the killing of so many people.”
‘No action against train driver’
Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha on Saturday ruled out action against the driver of the first train, saying there had been no negligence on part of the railways. “There was no lapse on our part and no action against the driver will be initiated,” PTI quoted Sinha as saying. “People should refrain from organising such events near tracks in future. I think if precaution had been taken, the accident could have been averted.”
Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani said it was not a “railway accident” but a case of trespassing on rail tracks.
The driver, Arvind Kumar, in a statement to the Railways administration said he had applied the emergency breaks but since a large group of people started pelting stones on the train, he decided to proceed, The Indian Express reported on Sunday.
Opposition parties Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed that Navjot Kaur Sidhu had fled the scene after the accident. While Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal demanded Navjot Singh Sidhu’s resignation, Bikram Majithia demanded that Navjot Kaur Sidhu be booked.