Amritsar train accident: Within minutes, festival turned into tragedy

Updated on Oct 21, 2018 09:02 AM IST

Police admit to giving permission for the event; Centre says Railways not informed about the festivities near the tracks

Relatives mourn during the cremation of a young boy, victim of Friday's train accident, in Amritsar, India, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.(AP)
Relatives mourn during the cremation of a young boy, victim of Friday's train accident, in Amritsar, India, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.(AP)
Hindustan Times, Amritsar | ByAnil Sharma

Around 7pm on Friday, a huge crowd was watching the Dussehra celebrations at Dhobi Ghat when they were mowed down by a diesel multiple unit (DMU) train, says the first information report (FIR) registered by Balvir Singh, the station house officer (SHO) of Government Railway Police (GRP), Amritsar.

The FIR, registered on the statement of assistant sub-inspector (ASI) Satnam Singh, in-charge of Golden Avenue police post that falls under Mohkampura police station, named unidentified persons for negligence. “Nearly 100 policemen, including Mohkampura SHO Sukhinder Singh and A-division SHO Jaspal Singh, were present on Dussehra duty before the incident took place,” the ASI said.

Chander Shekhar Luthra, an eyewitness and resident of Joda Phatak, said: “There were many policemen at the Dussehra function but they didn’t bother to evict people from the rail tracks.”

Sharing the sequence of events, Satnam Singh said: “I along with other police personnel was deployed at the Dussehra function at Dhobi Ghat near Joda Phatak where a huge crowd had gathered. As soon as the effigy of Ravana caught fire, the whole area resonated with the sound of crackers. In the meantime, DMU-74643, which was coming from Jalandhar to Amritsar station, passed by. We reached the railway track immediately and found there were several bodies, including those of women and children, lying on and along the track. Many people were injured. With the help of the public at the spot, we rushed the injured to the civil hospital. Ambulances and more police were called to the spot.”

The FIR says that after the statement of the ASI, GRP SHO Balvir Singh reached the spot and began investigation. The case was registered under Section 304 (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 304-A (causing death by negligence), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the Indian Penal Code against unidentified persons.

Event on big scale

Eyewitnesses and residents of the area said the Dussehra function was held at the Dhobi Ghat for three decades but was not allowed last year after residents opposed it, saying it was unsafe in the congested residential area. Jaskaran Singh, a local resident, said, “The ceremony used to be held here but this time it was on a much larger scale. Earlier, the organisers would form a human chain to prevent people for reaching the rail tracks but no such arrangement was made this time.” Amritsar municipal corporation (MC) commissioner Sonali Giri confirmed that the function was on a larger scale this time.

Navjot Kaur Sidhu, a former MLA and the wife of Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, was the chief guest. Maninder Singh, a resident of Mohkampura, said, “The function was delayed as the chief guest arrived late. The effigy was burnt when it had become dark.” Navjot Kaur said, “I left the spot 15 minutes before the incident took place.” Mayor Karamjit Singh Rintu said the function was organised by Saurabh Madan, the son of Congress councillor Vijay Madan.

Cops gave permission

Amritsar police admitted that they had given permission for the event after receiving a report from the area station house officer. However, the police and district administration did not inform the railways about the function. Manoj Sinha, the minister of state for railways, said, “The event was held near the Amritsar-Delhi rail route but no railway official was informed.”

Railway sources said the loco pilot (driver) said he had the green and all clear signal and had no idea that a crowd was gathered on the tracks. Divisional railway manager, Ferozepur, Vivek Kumar said, “The railways is not responsible for the accident, which took place due to trespassing on tracks.”

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