Did a careless passenger carry a Jerri can of kerosene on board Tamil Nadu Express (12622), or did a smoker not stub out his beedi or cigarette completely? Or, was it a case of an electrical short-circuit that sparked off a fire in the S11 compartment of the train, killing 32 and injuring many others early on Monday morning near Nellore station.

Officials, who began an investigation into the ghastly fire, are looking at the case from different angles. Despite the sabotage rumour doing the rounds, no evidence to suggest such a theory has been ferreted out so far.

Any enquiry has to rely on forensic evidence, and so, hope has been pinned on the experts from the Andhra Pradesh Forensic Science Laboratory (APFSL) who have begun their job. They began going through the charred coach with a fine-toothed comb, collecting bits and pieces of metal, soot and scraping residue to determine if an inflammable material like kerosene or an explosive substance was used.

Interestingly, media mention of sabotage was only based on the claim of an injured passenger, Madanlal, who said he woke up to a loud bang, a sound that was repeated twice more, even as he was scrambling out of the burning coach. An investigator said this was the only reason they were checking this out closely, so they could eliminate this angle if possible.

Whether it was sabotage or a short circuit, only a forensic investigation will reveal. Monday’s mishap also brings to the fore the security preparedness of the Railways. If it were true that a passenger in all his/her innocence brought on board a Jerri can of kerosene, how is it that it escaped a basic security check at the entrance of the station? Unlike cities like Mumbai, New Delhi or Kolkata, there are virtually no checks even in places like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Secunderabad or Chennai.

Door-frame metal detectors are in place and security personnel toting hand-held metal detectors are present. But is the purpose achieved, is what people are asking. A proposal to introduce an Integrated Security Management System (ISMS) across the country is yet to be cleared. It envisages having in place a live security mechanism that will ensure constant monitoring with the help of closed-circuit television cameras and baggage scanners. An official admitted that this project has been delayed due to a variety of reasons.