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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

It was dark, couldn’t hear train coming because of crackers: Eyewitnesses

Eyewitnesses of the train accident at Amritsar said normally the Ravan effigy is burnt earlier but this time it was delayed.

india Updated: Oct 20, 2018 01:01 IST
Surjit Singh
Surjit Singh
Hindustan Times, Amritsar
People mourn the death of their relatives in a train accident in Amritsar on Friday.
People mourn the death of their relatives in a train accident in Amritsar on Friday. (Sameer Sehgal/Hindustan Times)
         

Hundreds had gathered near a railway crossing at Jaura Phatak for Dussehra celebrations on Friday evening.

The effigy of Ravana was set on fire around 6.30 pm followed by massive fireworks. To maintain a safe distance from the burning effigy, a section of the crowd retreated towards the tracks. In the sound of crackers, a few noticed the closed level crossing.

Minutes later, a speeding train rammed the crowd, crushing more than 50 to death and injuring many others.

“We didn’t hear the train coming. It had become dark and everyone was watching the effigy in flames when the train suddenly appeared,” said Mintoo, a migrant labourer who became an eyewitness to the horror.

“Families have been wiped out,” he said, adding that most victims are migrant labourers.

The diesel multiple unit (DMU) train from Hoshiarpur was heading to Amritsar.

Eyewitnesses said normally the Ravana effigy is burnt earlier but this time it was delayed as the chief guest arrived late.

“The Ravana effigy was scheduled to be burnt at 6.15pm but the chief guest, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who is the wife of Amritsar (East) MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu, came late so the programme was running behind schedule,” said Padam Singh Dhingra, a businessman who stays nearby.

There was no barricading near the railway tracks nor any alarm raised by the authorities or organisers, said other witnesses.

Congested Area

Last year, there was no Dussehra celebration at this venue as it is in a congested area, according to another eyewitness.

“The administration and the Dussehra committee are at fault, they should have raised an alarm when the train was approaching, They should have made sure that the train halts or slows down,” another witness told ANI.

The gathering of people close to the tracks near Amritsar was a “clear case of trespassing” and no permission for the event was given by the railways, a senior official told PTI.

“We’re not kept in the loop and we provided no permission for the event. It is a clear case of trespassing and the local administration should take responsibility,” the railway official said.

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.”

Minutes before the DMU train passed by, another train from Amritsar to Howrah via Jalandhar crossed an adjoining rail track safely, an official said.

There are three tracks that run in the area. A boundary wall separates the dhobi ghat ground from the tracks.

People were seen taking the injured to the hospital themselves because reaching the accident site for ambulances was difficult. “It is dark and my son is missing,” said a woman, who was wailing.

(With inputs from Mandeep Kaur Narula and agencies)