Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi on Tuesday did not rule out the possibility of involvement of anti-social elements behind the cause of fire in the Howrah-Dehra Dun Doon Express in the small hours of the day that charred seven people to death.

Mr. Trivedi told journalists that one passenger saw a man boarding the train — carrying a bag that emitted a foul smell and smoke — and leaving it in the air-conditioned coach. The fire broke out only after that between Nimiaghat and Parasnath stations on the Gomo-Gaya section of Dhanbad division in Jharkhand.

He said officials would now try to locate the passenger to ascertain about the miscreant and what caused the fire.

Asked if the cause of the fire was due to poor maintenance, Mr. Trivedi said some passengers, discomfited by the AC, had demanded from the attendants to switch the heater on. It was suspected that in this process there was a short-circuit which led to a fire that destroyed two AC three-tier coaches.

Mr. Trivedi said he would wait for the inquiry report and not speculate on the cause of fire.

He said a thorough inquiry had been ordered by the Commissioner of Railway Safety, Eastern Circle, and expressed the confidence that the probe would pinpoint the actual cause of the fire.

Condoling the deaths, Mr. Trivedi said the Railways would pay an ex gratia of Rs.5 lakh to the bereaved families and Rs.25,000 to the injured passengers of the two affected coaches. This includes compensation for their belongings lost in the fire. There were 128 passengers in the two coaches that caught fire.

While only one incident of fire was reported last year, three incidents had been reported so far this year, reversing the declining trend. No one died in fire-related incidents last year.

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