The blame game be­gins in the Am­rit­sar train tragedy

The state gov­ern­ment, the In­dian Rail­ways or the pub­lic in gen­eral... the blame game con­tin­ues

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Vish­was Dass

The in­ci­dent was not the rail­ways’ fault. There was no lapse on our part and no ac­tion against the driver will be ini­ti­ated. Peo­ple should re­frain from or­gan­is­ing such events near tracks in fu­ture. I think if pre­cau­tion had been taken, the ac­ci­dent could have been averted.” This was min­is­ter of state for rail­ways Manoj Sinha’s re­sponse just hours af­ter the dread­ful train ac­ci­dent in Am­rit­sar on Oc­to­ber 19 on the day of Dussehra.

At least 62 peo­ple were killed and over were 100 in­jured af­ter a speed­ing diesel mul­ti­ple unit (DMU) train mowed down a huge crowd gath­ered at the rail­way track to watch the burn­ing of the Ra­vana ef­figy. The rail­ways has cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nied any re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ac­ci­dent and has in­stead passed the buck onto the Pun­jab gov­ern­ment, district po­lice and the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion.

It has said that it will not con­duct ei­ther an in­ter­nal probe or a com­mis­sioner rail­way safety (CRS) in­quiry as it main­tains that the mishap was a clear case of tres­pass­ing.

The In­dian Rail­ways’ alacrity in declar­ing it­self not guilty for the un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dent re­flects its cal­lous

at­ti­tude. Its in­sen­si­tiv­ity is fur­ther high­lighted by the fact that it is not yet said it will find out ways to avoid such mishaps in the fu­ture. The na­tional car­rier is more in­ter­ested in giv­ing it­self a clean chit. Rail­way board chair­man Ash­wani Lo­hani has said tres­pass­ing is the only rea­son for the mishap.

The in­ci­dent hap­pened on the Am­rit­sar-man­awala sec­tion when a speed­ing Ja­land­har-am­rit­sar DMU train ploughed through a mas­sive crowd that was stand­ing on the tracks to watch the burn­ing of Ra­vana’s ef­figy on Dussehra in Jaura Phatak. It is said that in the midst of cracker burst­ing, peo­ple could not hear the train which ran over them. Firozpur divi­sion of the north­ern rail­way says the train was mov­ing at a speed of around 65 kmph when the ac­ci­dent hap­pened and it blew horn many times but peo­ple stand­ing onto the tracks could not hear the train ap­proach­ing to­wards them.

Lo­hani said the DMU train was mov­ing at an as­signed speed of 90 kmph and the driver had ap­plied the brakes and brought it down to 65 kmph but by that time it was too late.

Sources in the rail­way min­istry said that af­ter the in­ci­dent took place, the driver tried to stop the train but af­ter see­ing en­raged crowd pelt­ing stones on the train, he took it to the next sta­tion.

The rail­ways have de­fended the DMU train driver for not stop­ping at the ac­ci­dent site as peo­ple’s anger could have re­sulted into an­other fright­ful tragedy.

North­ern Rail­way’s chief pub­lic re­la­tions of­fi­cer (CPRO) Deepak Ku­mar main­tains that Firozpur divi­sion will not in­ves­ti­gate the in­ci­dent and no com­pen­sa­tion has been granted by the rail­ways.

None of the top rail­way board of­fi­cials at the Rail Bha­van are will­ing to com­ment on the is­sue. On one hand, the rail­ways is main­tain­ing that it has no role in the in­ci­dent, while on the other hand it is dodg­ing me­dia queries.

Asked who is re­spon­si­ble for the un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dent, rail­way min­istry spokesper­son smita Vatsa sharma re­fused to com­ment and sug­gested to wait for some time to get more de­tails of the in­ci­dent.

The of­fi­cials have ruled out that there was any in­tel­li­gence fail­ure on part of the rail­ways. They said that even if there was any, it solely rests with the state gov­ern­ment, the district po­lice and the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Su­nil Ku­mar, for­mer ad­vi­sor (safety), rail­way board, says that con­sid­er­ing the sen­si­tiv­ity of the in­ci­dent, the In­dian Rail­ways should con­duct a cer­tain level of en­quiry.

He says by ar­gu­ing that tres­pass­ing is the only rea­son be­hind peo­ple’s death will do no good to the rail­ways. There was a case in 1985 in Ker­ala where peo­ple were wit­ness­ing some fes­ti­val cel­e­bra­tion in a tem­ple near a rail­way track and were run over by a train. In that case an in­quiry was set up by the rail­ways, he re­calls. “If I am run­ning a train, do I have a li­cence to kill peo­ple? Whoso­ever has done the mis­take, it should be ex­am­ined how peo­ple’s lives could have been saved,” Ku­mar adds.

“Pri­mar­ily, the rail­ways can’t be held re­spon­si­ble for this in­ci­dent but a sec­ondary in­ves­ti­ga­tion is needed for in­tro­spec­tion. If not the CRS in­quiry, some other level of in­quiry should be con­ducted,” he says.

He says not only peo­ple and the or­gan­is­ers but the state gov­ern­ment and rail­ways also took the en­tire in­ci­dent ca­su­ally.

Vivek Sa­hai, who was chair­man of the rail­way board be­tween 2010 and 2011, says a lot of pub­lic func­tions fre­quently take place near rail­way tracks and the na­tional car­rier should en­sure that en­croach­ments should not be there on 30 feet ei­ther side of the tracks.

He says there was no clear fault of the rail­ways but it was a sim­ple case of mis­take on part of the rail­ways.

Sa­hai adds the rail­ways should ask or­gan­is­ers of such func­tions to put a tem­po­rary fenc­ing around the tracks to pre­vent tres­pass­ing and save pre­cious lives.

He says driv­ers of the pass­ing trains usu­ally ex­change ‘al­right’ sig­nals with each other to in­di­cate the tracks are safe to go ahead. But here, the driver of the Am­rit­sar-howrah ex­press train did not raise an alarm with Ja­land­haram­rit­sar DMU. By the time the driver of DMU could un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing around the tracks, the train had al­ready ploughed down peo­ple, Sa­hai says.

He says the rail­ways could not pre­vent such in­ci­dents where peo­ple tres­pass on the tracks.

A se­nior of­fi­cial of the coach­ing depart­ment says a gate­man’s duty is to keep an eye on the level cross­ing and man­age the crowd when trains are com­ing on the track. The vis­i­bil­ity of an en­gine’s head­light is barely 40-50 me­tres be­yond which the driver can’t see any­thing. It is be­lieved that the driver was also un­able to spot peo­ple spilling on the track be­cause of the bright­ness of a gi­ant screen erected near the tracks and cracker burst­ing, he says, adding, the driver was not at all at fault. The lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion should have taken re­spon­si­bil­ity of man­ag­ing the mas­sive crowd. It was the in­tel­li­gence fail­ure on their part not on the rail­ways’ part.

The of­fi­cial says the rail­ways or­ders an en­quiry only if some­thing wrong has hap­pened on the block sec­tion of the rail­ways and a train has de­railed or pas­sen­gers have died.

He adds that the or­gan­iser of the dussehra event had turned the big screen (which was beam­ing live show of Ra­vana’s ef­figy burn­ing) to­wards the rail­way track which prompted peo­ple to watch it while stand­ing onto the tracks.

As an in­stance, if a rob­bery has hap­pened in the train then it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Gov­ern­ment Rail­way Po­lice (GRP) to in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter and not the rail­ways. Sim­i­larly, in this case, lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion, GRP and district po­lice should have a probe to find out rea­sons be­hind the mishap and the rail­ways should not be asked to in­ves­ti­gate the in­ci­dent, he says.

It seems none of the de­part­ments in­volved in the in­ci­dent are ready to in­tro­spect on the rea­sons be­hind the mishap that snuffed out 62 peo­ple on Dussehra.

Gn photo

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