Amritsar Train Accident: Exclusive ground report from the spot

Amritsar Train Accident: Exclusive ground report from the spot

Seeking to shift the blame for the tragedy on the Amritsar administration, official sources said the local authorities were aware about the Dussehra programme and that it was attended by a senior minister's wife.

Railway officials also said they were unlikely to compensate the family of the dead as they were not passengers. It was also the responsibility of the local superintendent of the police who deployed police officials to escort the VVIPs, Sidhu, sources said.

Ashwani Lohani, chairman of the Railway Board, visited the accident site. "Then the train came with a great speed and there was no horn and people did not come to know (about the approaching train) and it happened in a matter of just one or two seconds", he said. "We have staff at level crossings whose job is to regulate traffic", he said, explaining why the railways was not alerted about the congregation by its staff.

Amid questions being raised in some quarters about why the train did not stop despite such a large crowd being there, the official said, "There was so much smoke that the driver was unable to see anything and he was also negotiating a curve". "I think if precaution had been taken, the accident could have been averted", he said, adding wherever such events are held, the district administration concerned gives permission. "I talked to a few people who told me that some people were standing on the rail track and some were sitting on a stone near the track", the minister said. "We will take that forward", he said.

Meanwhile, the Amritsar Municipal Corporation Saturday said no permission was granted to hold Dussehra celebrations at "Dhobi ghat" ground here.

Railway officials were also gathering information from the railway linemen posted along the tracks near the Jora Phatak area who failed to inform the DMU driver regarding the presence of over 700 people on the railway tracks who were watching the burning of the Ravan and other effigies during Dusshera celebrations. "Trains travel in speed only", said Sinha when he was asked if an inquiry would be ordered against the driver.

Officials earlier said 61 people were killed at the event, barely 50 metres from the railway track.

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Doctors at Civil Hospital and Guru Nanak Hospital said 39 bodies have been identified. Most of those killed are migrant labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

"Nobody was given the permission for organising the Dussehra event. Moreover, nobody had applied for the permission with the Amritsar Municipal Corporation", said Amritsar Municipal Corporation Commissioner Sonali Giri.

Navjot Kaur Sidhu, however, said she had left the place before the accident took place and rushed to the hospital the moment she came to know of it. Dussehra celebrations were not held at this spot a year ago. Friday night, when accusations were being levelled against her, she was with patients.

According to reports the burning of the effigy was delayed due to the late arrival of the chief guest of the event, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, wife of the Amritsar East MLA and cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu.

"The event was organised by Mithu Madan's family, whose mother is a Congress councillor in the area". Navjot Singh Sidhu, her husband, rubbished the allegations.

As the effigy was lit and the fireworks went off, a section of the crowd started retreating towards the tracks where a large number of people were already standing.

Almost 150 people, most of who were watching the burning of effigies or were recording the event on their mobile phones, were mowed down by the train. One account said two trains arrived from the opposite direction at the same time giving little opportunity to people to escape.

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