The Punjab and Railway Police on Saturday questioned the driver of a train that crushed at least 61 people to death in Amritsar while they were watching the burning of a Ravana effigy from a railway track.
The train was en route to Amritsar from Jalandhar when the incident occurred at Joda Phatak where at least 300 people were watching ‘Ravana dahan’ at a ground near the tracks.
The tragic train accident took a political turn with the Opposition accusing the state’s Congress government for lapses in allowing celebrations near railway tracks and Punjab minister Navjot Sidhu’s wife facing allegations of leaving the site soon after the incident.
Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who was the chief guest at the event, later talked to media at a hospital where injured were taken and said her priority was to ensure they receive proper treatment.
“The effigy of Ravana was burnt and I had just left the site when the incident happened. Priority should be to get the injured treated,” she said. She also asked people to refrain from politicising the issue.
Union minister and Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal said the entire onus was on the state government. “There are not enough words to mourn the Amritsar train tragedy that claims so many innocent lives. My deepest condolences to the families who lost their loved ones.
The incident needs to be probed as it casts serious question on administration,” she tweeted.
BJP leader and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the initial reports suggest it was a tragedy that could have been avoided.
Another Akali leader Bikram Majithia said he was distressed to hear the unfortunate news of the train accident. “The authorities concerned must be held accountable for the ill-fated accident & strict action must be taken against the guilty police officers and organisers,” he said.
Some opposition leaders also alleged that the Dussehra was organised by the Congress near the tracks without receiving any proper approval.
Former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal demanded an inquiry by a retired high court judge to fix responsibility and punish the guilty.
His son and senior party leader Sukhbir Singh Badal said he was extremely sad to hear the unfortunate incident. “Local organisers and police must answer how the celebrations were allowed to be held near the railway track,” he said on Twitter.
All major parties including the BJP, the Congress and the AAP said they have asked their respective local party workers to help in relief and rescue operation.
AAP national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Friday asked Aam Aadmi Party volunteers to help authorities in Punjab in carrying out relief work. “Extremely sad news coming about a major train accident near Amritsar I appeal to all our volunteers in the area to help authorities in the relief work and provide whatever help we can in this moment of crisis,” Kejriwal tweeted.
Train services affected
All services between Jalandhar and Amritsar remained suspended hours after the incident, railway officials said.
While some trains are being diverted, many are stranded near Jalandhar, they said.
As of now, two trains – Bhatinda-Jammu Tawi and Jammu Tawi-Bhatinda – have been diverted towards Jalandhar-Pathankot route.
Two trains – Amritsar-Mumbai Golden Temple and Amritsar-Dehradun – are stuck at Amritsar because of the accident, the officials said.
Photos: Prabhjot Gill