Magisterial probe into Amritsar train tragedy; railways deny responsibility (Roundup)

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Amritsar, Oct 20 (IANS) The Punjab government on Saturday ordered a magisterial probe into the Amritsar train tragedy in which 59 people watching Dusshera effigy burning were crushed to death by a speeding train even as the railways said it was not responsible for the tragedy.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh ordered a magisterial probe into the incident, including finding out if mandatory permissions for holding the function were given.

Amarinder, who visited the accident site and the injured in hospitals on Saturday, said the Jalandhar Divisional Commissioner will conduct an inquiry within four weeks.

“Action will be taken against those responsible for the tragedy once the inquiry report comes,” he said.

Opposition Shiromani Akali Dal demanded that a case of murder be registered against the organizers, who are mostly ruling Congress leaders.

“This is a massacre and murder. The organizers should be booked for murder of these people,” said SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal after visiting the accident spot.

The Chief Minister said that nine of those killed were yet to be identified, while 57 other Dussehra revellers were injured as the Jalandhar-Amritsar Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) passenger train mowed them down at Joda Phatak in Amritsar.

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Asked if there were any lapses on the part of the railways, the Chief Minister said the probe would look into the matter. “It (the probe) will ascertain whether approvals for holding the function were given,” Amarinder said.

Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha on Saturday said that the railway ministry is not to be blamed for any lapses leading to the disaster.

“The Railways was not informed about the Dusshera ceremony near the Joda Phatak vicinity either by the area administration or the event organisers,” he said.

“The Commissioner (Amritsar) in his report has said he had not granted permission to hold the Dusshera festival at the spot,” Sinha, who visited the accident site at midnight, told reporters.

On Friday, hundreds of people watching a huge Ravan effigy go up in flames amid exploding crackers spilled on to the tracks at Joda Phatak when the passenger train heading to Hoshiarpur from Amritsar came hurtling down around 7 p.m.

Most people reportedly could not hear the train due to the exploding crackers.

Asked why the Chief Minister reached Amritsar after 16 hours of the tragedy, he said, “I was supposed to go to Tel Aviv (Israel). I came back from New Delhi airport.”

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He said he did not want the administration to get busy making arrangements for his visit.

The Amarinder government is under fire for reacting late to the massive tragedy and also for not taking action against organizers of the Dusshera function since they are from the ruling Congress and close aides of Punjab cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu.

The Chief Minister urged all political parties “to rise above petty politicking to join hands to mitigate the sufferings of the victims and their families”.

“Though I wanted to visit Amritsar last night itself, I was advised against it by the district authorities which did not want a VIP movement to divert attention from the urgent rescue and relief efforts needed at that hour,” he said.

He said two little girls he met in the hospital had lost their entire families in the accident.

Chairman Railway Board Ashwani Lohani also dismissed the railways’ responsibility in the tragedy. He said the train which was running at its assigned speed, its loco-pilot applied brakes to slow it down.

“Trains run at their assigned speed and people are not expected to go on the tracks. It was a clear case of trespassing. The Punjab and Railway Police on Saturday questioned the driver of a train that crushed the people.

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Sources said that the driver claimed that he was given green signal and all-clear and had no idea that hundreds of people were standing on the tracks when the train crossed the area.

No action has so far been initiated against the organisers, who are leaders of the ruling Congress in Punjab, of the Dusshera event. Police sources said that the organisers had gone underground.

There is a big question mark over the permissions being granted to the organizers to hold the event so close to the railway tracks.

Punjab Local government minister Navjot Singh Sidhu is being targeted as the Congress leaders behind the function are his close aides in Amritsar and went ahead with the function without mandatory permissions.

Sidhu’s wife, Navjot Kaur, was the chief guest at the event where the tragedy happened.

Ironically, just two minutes before the DMU crushed the people, another train crossed the same spot without a problem with the same number of people standing there.

–IANS

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