Dussehra tragedy in Amritsar: At least 61 killed as train runs over revellers

People gather near the site of a train accident at Joda Phatak in Amritsar on October 19, 2018.

People gather near the site of a train accident at Joda Phatak in Amritsar on October 19, 2018.   | Photo Credit: PTI

More than 70 have been injured; Amarinder orders inquiry; clear case of trespassing, says Railways.

At least 61 people were killed and 77 injured on October 19 evening after a crowd of Dussehra revellers that had spilled onto railway tracks while watching burning of Ravana effigy was run over by a train near Amritsar, officials said.

The train was coming from Jalandhar when the accident occurred at Joda Phatak near Amritsar, where at least 300 people were watching ‘Ravana dahan’ at a ground adjacent to the tracks.

Sub Divisional Magistrate Rajesh Sharma said at least 61 people, including women and children, have died and at least 77 injured have been admitted to a Amritsar hospital.

However, Raveen Thukral, media advisor to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, said initial reports suggest the accident occurred during a stampede as people rushed towards the tracks when crackers burst during the burning of the Ravana effigy. The reports indicate that train crashed through the crowd on the tracks at that time, he added.

But, a video showed people were run over by the train when they were watching the Ravana effigy burn, with many of them also seen filming the celebration. As the effigy was lit and the fireworks went off, a section of the crowd started retreating towards the tracks where a large number of people were standing to watch the event, officials said.

Two trains arrived from the opposite direction at the same time giving little time to people to escape, they said. Several people were mowed down by one of the trains.

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Google Maps image locates Joda Phatak, near Amritsar in Punjab.

Google Maps image locates Joda Phatak, near Amritsar in Punjab.  

 

It took just about 10 to 15 seconds for the train to pass, and leave behind a heap of crushed and dismembered bodies.

Video clips posted on the social media showed some people who had apparently seen the approaching train trying to run away from the site. A few of them were also mowed down.

“Out of nowhere came the train,” said a man at the site. “Before anyone could realise what was happening, it ran over scores of people.”

Another man said, “When the effigy started to burn in full flow, people began running away from it fearing it may fall over them. They did not realise that a speeding train was coming and the train did not sound its hooter.”

 

The site of a railway accident near the venue of Dussehra festivities, at Joda Phatak in Amritsar on October 19, 2018.

The site of a railway accident near the venue of Dussehra festivities, at Joda Phatak in Amritsar on October 19, 2018.   | Photo Credit: PTI

 

 

Railway helpline numbers

  • These numbers can be used reach for information on the incident — 0183-2223171 and 0183-2564485
  • Telephone numbers at Manawala station are 0183-2440024, 0183-2402927 and Ferozpur’s helpline number is 01632-1072
  • Northern Railway helpline numbers at New Delhi railway station: 011-23342954, 011-23341074, 011-42622280 & 1072 — 4 lines, Railway no. 22280

Here are the updates:

 

Clear case of trespassing: Railways

The gathering of people close to tracks near Amritsar where a train mowed down Dussehra revellers was a “clear case of trespassing” and no permission for the event had been given by the Railways, a senior official told PTI.

Seeking to shift the blame for the tragedy on the Amritsar administration, official sources said the local authorities were aware about the Dussehra programme and that it was attended by a senior Minister’s wife. “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.

Amid questions being raised in some quarters about why the train did not stop despite such a large crowd being there, the official said, “There was so much smoke that the driver was unable to see anything and he was also negotiating a curve.”

“However, the Railways’ entire machinery is at the spot and we are cooperating with local administration is rescue and relief operations” the official added.

 

Footage show people taking selfies from tracks

Amritsar As scores of Dussehra revellers watching the burning of Ravana effigy were mowed down by a passing train near here, the disturbing video footage of the accident showed many across the railway tracks filming the celebrations on their mobile phones when the tragedy struck.

Dussehra tragedy in Amritsar: At least 61 killed as train runs over revellers
 

Punjab Minister Navjot Sidhu’s wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who was the chief guest at the programme, later said nobody knew how the accident happened as people were enjoying and also taking selfies standing on the tracks.

Many, including political leaders, took to Twitter to express dismay over the selfie culture during such tragic incidents.

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Train services on Jalandhar-Amritsar route suspended

All services on Jalandhar-Amritsar route remained suspended three hours after the mishap. While some trains are being diverted, many are stationed near Jalandhar, a railway official said.

MoS Railways Manoj Sinha told reporters in New Delhi that medical teams are rushing to the spot. “I am also leaving for the site of the accident. As per initial information, people present near the railway track couldn’t hear the sound of the approaching train due to bursting of crackers,” he told before leaving for Amritsar.

 

Amarinder orders inquiry

Amarinder Singh has ordered an inquiry into the tragic Amritsar train accident. The Chief Minister said a thorough probe will be conducted into the incident. Why an effigy was allowed to be burnt close to the railway tracks will also be investigated.

Acting on the Chief Minister’s directives, Rehabilitation Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria and Health Minister Brahm Mohindra have already rushed to Amritsar to supervise rescue and relief operations. Punjab’s Home Secretary, Health Secretary and DGP (Law & Order) have also left for Amritsar.

Injured victims of a train accident are treated at a hospital in Amritsar on October 19, 2018.

Injured victims of a train accident are treated at a hospital in Amritsar on October 19, 2018.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Mr. Singh has issued orders to mobilise all necessary administrative and police personnel on a war footing to help the district administration tackle the situation. The CM has also directed the chief secretary to deploy administrative officials to ensure that the injured people are hospitalised immediately.

All private hospitals have been asked to remain open to provide urgent free treatment and care to the injured.

 

Modi approves financial relief of ₹2 lakh

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved a financial relief of ₹2 lakh for the family of each deceased in the Amritsar train accident and ₹50,000 for the injured, a spokesperson said.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has separately announced a compensation of ₹5 lakh each to the kin of the deceased.

 

State mourning declared in Punjab

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh tweets: “The State will remain in mourning tomorrow in view of Amritsar train mishap. All offices & educational institutions will remain closed.

“Have set up Crisis Management Group under (Health & Family Welfare Minister) Brahm Mohindra to monitor relief & rehabilitation efforts in Amritsar. Won’t spare any efforts on part of govt to tackle the crisis.”

 

Railway officials term the dead as ‘trespassers’

Railway Minister of State Manoj Sinha, Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani, Northern Railway GM Vishwesh Chaubey will take off from Delhi by an Air Force plane at 11 p.m.

Railway officials termed the dead as “trespassers” and said there was no decision so far on any compensation from the national transporter as they were not passengers.

The death toll, according to local officials could reach 100.

An angry crowd shouts slogans beside the body of a victim of a train accident near Amritsar on October 19, 2018. Photo: Special Arrangement

An angry crowd shouts slogans beside the body of a victim of a train accident near Amritsar on October 19, 2018. Photo: Special Arrangement  

 

Opposition attacks Punjab government

The train mishap has taken a political turn with the Opposition accusing the State 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 spoke to the 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 tweeted.

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Heart-rending scenes at accident site

The celebratory crowd broke into chaos as cries and wails filled the air. Dismembered body parts of revellers laid strewn on tracks and on the blood-soaked ground.

An eyewitness told reporters near the accident site that scenes were reminiscent of ones witnessed during the Partition of the country when millions of people lost their lives in violence.

For several mothers, who were till just moments ago celebrating the festivities, the few fateful moments changed the life forever. Shock and disbelief were common emotions.

“I have lost my child. I want him back,” said an inconsolable mother.

Relatives mourn at the site of a train accident in Joda Phatak near Amritsar on October 19, 2018.

Relatives mourn at the site of a train accident in Joda Phatak near Amritsar on October 19, 2018.   | Photo Credit: PTI

 

A local resident said they have been requesting the authorities and their representatives in legislatures to talk with the railways and make sure trains are slowed down near this section of the track during Dussehra. “But no one has listened,” he lamented.

There was also anger among the people.

“The driver didn’t blow the horn,” alleged one of the witnesses.

 

President Kovind expresses shock

President Ram Nath Kovind tweets to pay his condolences to the bereaved families. “Shocked to hear about the tragedy on rail tracks in Amritsar, Punjab. Understand Indian Railways and local authorities are taking steps to help affected people,” he said.

 

Mamata, Kejriwal express grief

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has expressed grief at the death of several people in the train accident. She says she was left with no words to express her shock and agony.

“Very very sad to learn about the unfortunate rail incident in Amritsar during Dussehra festivities,” Mr. Banerjee tweets. “My heart goes out to the family members of the victims. Pray that the injured persons recover very quickly.”

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal too has expressed condolences. “Extremely sad news coming about a major train accident near Amritsar,” he tweets. “I appeal to all our volunteers in the area to help authorities in relief work and provide whatever help we can in this moment of crisis.”

 

Railway officials rush to accident site

The Railway has rushed its top officials to Amritsar, while Union minister Piyush Goyal says immediate relief and rescue operations are being conducted. Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani and Northern Railway general manager Vishwesh Chaube are rushing to the spot, officials says.

“Shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic train incident that occurred in Amritsar. My heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims. I pray for the injured to recover quickly. Railways is conducting immediate relief and rescue operations,” Mr. Goyal tweets from the U.S. where he has gone to attend an event.

 

'All possible assistance to Punjab'

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced all possible assistance by the Centre to Punjab as a large number of Dussehra revellers standing across railway tracks were mowed down by a passing train.

“Pained beyond words at the loss of precious lives due to a train tragedy during Dussehra festivities in Punjab. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased and prayers with the injured,” Mr. Singh tweeted soon after the incident.

The Home minister said he has spoken to Home secretary and DGP of Punjab regarding the accident and they are rushing to the spot.

“Centre is ready to provide all possible assistance to the state at this hour of grief,” he said.

 

 

 

 

Sidhu reacts

Area legislator and Local Bodies Minister Navjot Sidhu told a news channel on telephone from Bengaluru that the death toll was alarmingly high.

His wife Navjot Kaur Singh was the Chief Guest at the Dussehra where the incident occurred at around 7 p.m.

 

‘Out of nowhere came the train’

In a horrific incident, several people glued to watching a burning Ravan effigy while standing on railway tracks were crushed by a speeding train in Punjab. A large number of people were watching a huge Ravan effigy in flames while standing on the tracks at a railway crossing at Jodha Phatak when the train on way from Pathankot to Amritsar mowed them down, triggering anger and outrage.

It was not clear why the train did not halt despite the presence of so many people on the tracks and why the railway crossing was left open for people to gather. Witnesses said that as fire was set to the Ravan effigy amid exploding crackers, many of the around 700 people gathered at the event moved back from the flames only to end up standing on the tracks.

“Out of nowhere came the train,” said a man, sounding angry. “Before anyone could realise what was happening, it ran over scores of people.”

“When the effigy started to burn in full flow, people began running away from it fearing it may fall over them,” said another man. “They did not realise that a speeding train was coming and the train did not sound its hooter.”

A crowd gathers near the site where a train ran over several Dussehra revellers in Amritsar on October 19, 2018.

A crowd gathers near the site where a train ran over several Dussehra revellers in Amritsar on October 19, 2018.  

Another man felt that the tragedy would have claimed at least 100 lives. The dead included several children, another witness said.

News agency ANI quoted an eyewitness at the accident site as saying: “Congress had organised Dussehra celebrations here without permission. Navjot Singh Sidhu’s wife was the chief guest at the celebrations and she continued to give a speech as people were struck down by the train.”

(With input from PTI and IANS)

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Printable version | Jul 6, 2020 5:45:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/dussehra-tragedy-in-amritsar-live-updates-many-killed-as-train-runs-over-revellers/article25264444.ece

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