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At least 37 pilgrims, most of them women, were killed and 40 injured on Monday when an express train ploughed into them in Bihar’s Khagaria district, triggering a protest by locals who beat up the drivers and torched some carriages.
The death toll, said sources, could rise, as many of the grievously injured were moved to hospitals by their families with the protesters holding up ambulances, relief trains and police vehicles.
The pilgrims, who had alighted from two trains on the wrong side of the platform at the Dhamara Ghat station, 250km from Patna, were crossing the track when the Patna-bound Rajya Rani Express struck them at around 8.40am. Thirty women, four men and three children were killed on the spot.
The victims were among the devotees rushing to the nearby Katyayani temple to mark the fourth and final Monday of the holy month of Sawan.
The express was not supposed to halt at Dhamara Ghat and was given clearance to pass through, but the pilgrims on the tracks thought they could stop the train, railway board chairman Arunendra Kumar said in Delhi. Though the driver applied the emergency brakes, it was too late.
The train skidded to a stop after around 150 metres, where locals and devotees surrounded it, pulled the driver out and thrashed him, a police officer said. The driver is critical.
The mob then torched several coaches of the express train and the other two trains. They also took some officials hostage and vandalised the station.
Senior officer sent from the nearby districts to control the situation were forced back and could only reach Dhamara late afternoon. Police had to escort the two relief trains that moved the injured, many of who are critical, to hospitals.
Medical aid was also delayed as the station has no road access. “The problem is that one has to carry the injured for more than 6km on foot, as there is no road access to the station,” said additional director general (law and order) SK Bhardwaj in Patna.
Forced to cancel several trains, the railways lost Rs. 25 crore in Monday’s violence.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed deep sorrow over the deaths and appealed for calm, a PMO statement said.Read: For these devotees, sawan ends in a blood bath
Chief minister Nitish Kumar said the accident was ‘most unfortunate’. But the BJP and Rashtriya Janata Dal criticised the delay in providing medical aid. Relief and rescue efforts could have been better coordinated, RJD chief and former CM Lalu Prasad said.
As many as 40 people are killed on tracks by speeding trains in India. Safety remains a big concern as the deaths of “other than passengers” on Indian rail tracks are many times higher than the total number of such fatalities in the rest of the world.
A map showing where the incident took place
Video: Dhamara station ransacked by mob