Amritsar Train Tragedy: How a disaster could have been averted



Amritsar Train Tragedy: How a disaster could have been averted

On 19th October an Amritsar bound diesel locomotive ran over a crowd of people who were watching the Dussehra Celebrations, standing on and around the railway tracks near Joda Fatak area that evening. The immolation of Ravana idol was followed by fireworks and a huge crowd had gathered to witness the festivities. An entire procession of Ram Lila was organized on the ground near the railway tracks. That fateful evening, the DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) driver had received a green signal to go ahead on the tracks in spite of a large crowd gathered in the area. There were neither any warning signals to slow the train in anticipation of the mob. In the wake of such circumstances, the driver was not able to control the speed at the right moment to avoid the collision and the coaches ran right over the people gathered on the railway track. So far, 60 lives have been claimed and the toll of injured and critical is increasing.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, had visited the hospital and issued 3cr to be released by the DC Amritsar to be given to the aggrieved families. He also ordered, a magisterial inquiry into the matter and entrusted the divisional commissioner of Jalandhar to look into the matter. A time interval of four weeks has been given to come up with the details. Meanwhile, an angry mob of protestors organized a sit-in on the railway tracks demanding proper investigation and compensation of the aggrieved families. The State Police and Rapid Action Force had been brought in to condone off the area and control the crowds. The frenzied mob when met by police resorted to stone pelting and hooliganism. Several trains have been rerouted and cancelled following the incident. The DMU in question has also been stationed at an undisclosed location to avoid damage to any evidence.

In the aftermath of such a disaster, we are left wondering what could have been done to ward off the accident. There are a few basic answers to the question which border on common sensibility and human instincts. To begin with- Avoid gathering of crowds on or around railway tracks. The organizers Saurabh Madan Mithu, a local Congress ward councilor and event manager Sandeep Bawa are known to be absconding. In a CCTV footage, Saurabh was seeing fleeing his residence after the incident. A recent video released by him is doing the rounds, wherein he seeks apology for the accident, hiding in an unknown, undisclosed location. The Police is being asked as to why the organizers are not being booked in the incident in spite of an FIR being lodged. Interestingly, a video grab of the event indicates that the organizers were boastful of the fact that ‘nearly 500 people could stand on the railway tracks fearlessly’. This has raised several imminent questions about setting a bad precedent for the public in general, more recently when a Chief Minister’s wife flouted protocol to click a dangerous selfie on the edge of a cruise. Politicians are unwilling to take responsibility for their actions that are taken as examples and benchmarks.

Also, residents of the Joda Fatak area have claimed that they have always crossed the railway tracks at will and that no damage or accidents have been reported in the past. This prevailing attitude, made it further difficult to control or clear off the crowd from the tracks. The Railways also brushed their hands off the incident claiming gathering of crowds on the main line was trespassing and there is a two manned level crossing track for the same. Moreover, no prior information had been passed on to the railway authorities about any such event being held.

Amidst this, several allegations are being made by the people against the Railways Management. Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who was a chief guest at the event stated that the train was neither slowing down, nor applying brakes during or after the collision. The driver who has not been identified as of yet, has stated that he was given no prior intimidation about the event. The signals were green which indicated him to travel at full speed on the line further ahead. Although, he had blown the horn and applied emergency brakes, it was too late before the crowd actually materialized before him in the dim light night time. To counter this, several eyewitnesses have rubbished the driver’s statement and claimed that there was ample lighting and the fire from the effigies to warn the driver about a possible gathering in the distance. The railway guard, who had to signal the approaching train about any hindrance or obstruction on the tracks has also not been identified till now. Experts are claiming the guard could have been at a better position to make a more informed decision about letting the coach pass.

Post this, many politicians including Prime Minister, Narendra Modi have expressed their grievances and condolences to the bereaved families. The Chief Minister has assured a sum of Rs 5 Lakhs to the kin of the deceased and free treatment to the victims at all hospitals. Apart from this, vested interest driven outfits are trying to politically colour the agitation of the masses during such sensitive times. Tweets that had been doing the rounds, claimed the driver to be a Muslim, who, deliberately staged the accident. Another news thread claimed the driver to have committed suicide. Lot of malicious content is being spewed to feed the divisive agenda. Former MP, Subramaniam Swamy has stated that the “Organizers must take blame” for the accident and damage caused. Navjot Singh Sidhu has said that “it might be due to negligence, but does not necessarily mean it was motivated.” With opinions being fired from all political fronts one can only hope a speedy delivery of justice and compensation to the bereaved.

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