Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh Saturday ordered a magisterial inquiry into the Amritsar train accident after visiting injured and kin of those killed in the tragedy.
Dussehra celebrations turned tragic in Amritsar on Friday evening when a speeding train ran over hundreds of people who were watching Ravana’s effigy going up in flames. At least 61 people were feared dead according to initial estimates with authorities saying that the fatalities could rise.
The chief minister postponed a trip to Israel and arrived here this morning to assess the damage. "We are announcing a magisterial probe into the incident," Singh said while talking to media here.
He said four weeks have been given to submit the report to find out who was at fault. The divisional commissioner of Jalandhar has been entrusted with the job of holding the inquiry, he said.
The tragedy took place at the Joda Fatak area where a large crowd had gathered to watch the fireworks. As the firecrackers went off, the organisers of the Dussehra celebration asked people to move back. A large number of people moved towards the railway tracks. Seven of the 70-odd people injured in a train accident near here were in critical conditions, officials said on Saturday.
At the same time, the Jalandhar-Amritsar DMU was crossing the spot. Police officials said that the revelers could not hear the train approaching because of the loud explosions from the effigy and were run over by the train. Eyewitnesses said the Amritsar-Howrah train had crossed the spot minutes earlier. Had the two trains crossed at the same time, the casualties would have been much higher.
Amritsar commissioner of police SS Srivastava confirmed the death toll. He said they were trying to clear the bodies from the tracks and take the injured to nearby hospitals.
Amritsar deputy commissioner Kamaldeep Singh Sangha said ambulance services had been pressed into service to take the injured to the hospitals. “All hospitals in the city have been alerted about the injured patients and ambulances from the neighbouring districts have also been requisitioned to carry the injured and dead,” he said.
Dussehra was being celebrated in the Amritsar (East) constituency represented by Punjab cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu. His wife and former MLA from the area, Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu, was at the function and left before the mishap. “I had left the spot only moments earlier after seeing that all arrangements were in place,” she told reporters after the tragedy. “I rushed back as soon as I got a call about the accident.”
Sources said that when the effigy was being burnt, the spectators pushed back around 100 feet on to the railway tracks as they feared that the burning effigy would fall on them.
As news of the tragedy emerged, people gathered in large numbers at the accident spot. Many of them alleged negligence on part of both the organisers of the Dussehra celebrations as well as the state government for not making adequate safety arrangements given that the railway tracks were right next to the celebration site. They blamed the administration and politicians for failing to protect them.
Local MLA and Punjab minister OP Soni visited the spot after the tragedy where he had to face the anger of the people.
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh has directed home secretary NS Kalsi, health secretary Satish Chandra and ADGP (law and order) Hardeep Singh Dhillon to immediately rush to Amritsar. The chief minister would fly to Amritsar on Saturday to assess the situation.
Amarinder tweeted, “Rushing to Amritsar to personally supervise relief & rescue in tragic rail accident on Dussehra in Amritsar. My govt will give Rs 5 lakh to kin of each deceased & free treatment to injured in govt & pvt hospitals. District authorities have been mobilised on war footing.”
Punjab BJP president and Rajya Sabha MP Shwait Malik, who is a former mayor of Amritsar, said, “It is a very unfortunate incident. It should not have happened.”
At least 300 people were watching the 'Ravana dahan' at a ground adjacent to railway tracks.
He said compensation of Rs five lakh each for the families of the deceased had already been announced by the state government. Besides, the government would bear the cost of medical treatments of the injured admitted to different hospitals, he told reporters.
Fifty-nine people were killed and 57 injured in the accident, he said, adding except nine, most of the bodies have been identified.
After landing at the Amritsar airport, Singh reached the accident site. He met senior officials and members of the crisis management group and took stock of the relief work.
He was accompanied by Health Minister Brahm Mohindra, Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, Education Minister O P Soni, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, among others.
Most people who died after being run over by a speeding train in Amritsar during Dussehra celebrations on Friday were migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, an official said on Saturday. Only 39 bodies have been identified.
A senior official in the district administration said most migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar work in an industrial area not far away from the accident site and live nearby.
"As per initial reports, most of deceased were migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and were working in the industrial area to earn their livelihood," the official said.
Jagunandan, a 40-year-old wage labourer from Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh suffered injuries to his head and leg. He said he was not standing near the tracks but was pushed as people started running away from the main stage after the Ravan effigy was set afire.
The father of four was brought to hospital by a relative, who accompanied him to the event.
The district administration is providing all possible help to the family members of those killed in sending bodies to their home town, another official said.
Since morning, a large number of people have been sitting on railway tracks where the accident happened, due to which train services have been suspended on the line.
Angry people are raising slogans against the state government, saying that it did nothing to ensure proper security arrangements for the Dusshera event.