Amritsar, 20 October:
In the festival din, the crowd didn’t hear train coming
Dussehra celebration in Amritsar on Friday turned into a grave tragedy for many when a speeding train ran over and mowed down Dussehra crowd who had gathered there and spilled on to railway track. While the onlookers were having fun and waiting for the effigy of Ravana to burn and promulgate the victory of good over evil, at around 7.15pm, a fast running train came speeding onto the crowd who could not hear it coming due to the fireworks and the din that comes with it.
And suddenly, celebrations for hundreds of families turned into the worst tragedy.
At least 61 people have been reported killed and 74 injured in the accident, according to a senior government official.
The unofficial figures are reportedly much higher.
Only 3km from Amritsar railway station, although the crossing was closed for vehicular traffic, but it was not cordoned off to avoid the tragedy. People from the ground had spilt onto the tracks on both sides, many standing on the tracks.
It is not clear if the administration had given permission to hold the festivities so close to a busy railway track.
Railway officials have rushed to claim it to be a case of trespass.
“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.
There being some rumours of Railways compensating the families, the officials were quick to quell those too. Railway officials also said they were unlikely to compensate the family of the dead as they were not passengers.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved Rs 2 lakh for the family of the dead and Rs 50,000 for the injured.
Navjot Kaur Sidhu, the wife of Congress minister and Amritsar East legislator Navjot Singh Sidhu, was the chief guest at the event.
The blame game:
Mrs Sidhu, whose husband is currently in the Congress Party, with the government of the Centre being that of BJP, indirectly blamed the Railways (a Centre government department):
“We burnt the Ravan effigies at six places today. Most of them were near the railway track. They (railway authorities) should have at least issued directions to slow down the speed of the train. Such a big mistake,” she said.
“Now we are being told that railway authorities did not even slow down the train and that people were standing on the tracks,” she added.
A state of mourning was declared in Punjab, shutting down all government institutions on Saturday.
In addition to the Central Government’s announcement of Rs 2 Lakh, the state government also announced Rs 5 Lakh compensation to the families of the dead.
However tragedies like this demand bipartisan and all party support. Unsurprisingly, leaders across the political spectrum and Bollywood personalities have put out condolence messages.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was extremely saddened by the mishap. “The tragedy is heart-wrenching,” he tweeted.
“My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and I pray that the injured recover quickly. Have asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required.”
Railways minister Piyush Goyal cancelled all his engagements in the US and said he was immediately returning to India.
“May God give strength to the bereaved and injured. Railways is proving all possible assistance at the site. I have cancelled all engagements in USA and immediately returning back to India,” Goyal tweeted.
Ajay Devgn was one of the first Bollywood celebrities to tweet about the tragedy. He tweeted:
“Pained to hear about the Amritsar train tragedy. Deepest condolences to the bereaved families.”
Ronit Roy tweeted:
“Terrible twist of fate. My heart and prayers go out to the victims and families of the #AmritsarTrainAccident .”
Sonu Sood tweeted:
“So disturbed to see the visuals of #AmritsarTrainincident have no words to express how sad is the whole incident. Mere negligence could cost so many lives. Wish it was not true. May God give strength to the families who lost their loved ones. Wish this was not true”
Diljit Dosanjh tweeted:
Deeply Hurt and saddened by the terrible train tragedy in Amritsar. Its heart-wrenching. My deepest condolences to the families of victims. My prayers with the affected ones for quick recovery. Farhan Akhtar tweeted:
“Saddened to hear about the loss of life in #Amritsar. Safety in public spaces HAS TO be taken a lot more seriously. Deepest condolences to all families affected by this tragedy.”
Veteran actor and politician Shatrughan Sinha tweeted:
“Shocked & saddened to hear about the Amritsar train tragedy. It seems so unfair for a horrific accident of this magnitude amidst celebrations of Dussehra. Providence has strange ways of throwing challenges at the humankind.”
In his second tweet, he wrote,
“Hope wish & pray, God gives enough strength to the bereaved family. My humble request to State & Central Govt to provide immediate assistance.”
Diana Penty tweeted:
“Absolutely shocked at hearing the news of the #trainaccident in #Amritsar. I just cannot fathom how something like this could have happened. My deepest condolences to all the families that have lost their loved ones. Love and prayers”
- – Shalini Singh with Agencies