Odisha’s long disaster response experience comes handy during Balasore train accident

Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik refrained from scoring political brownie points though there was ample opportunity to do so, said a senior BJD leader

June 05, 2023 07:28 pm | Updated June 06, 2023 05:40 pm IST - BHUBNESWAR

A locomotive atop the wagons of a goods train at the accident spot in Balasore district of Odisha.

A locomotive atop the wagons of a goods train at the accident spot in Balasore district of Odisha. | Photo Credit: PTI

Described as the most devastating train accident in the last twenty years, the mishap that occurred near Bahanaga Railway Station in Odisha’s Balasore district involved two passenger trains, one of which was traveling at a speed of 128 kilometres per hour. The potential for a catastrophic loss of life was high.

Fortunately, Odisha’s extensive expertise in handling emergencies proved invaluable in the face of this disaster and the injured passengers were swiftly transported to nearby hospitals, resulting saving 1200 lives.

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After assigning different responsibilities to about 10 secretary level officials, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik himself took stock of the situation at State control room on evening of June 2.  His instruction was unambiguous. Saving lives of injured passengers was now top priority for the government, Mr. Patnaik said.

When Odisha CM was himself in charge of rescue operation, things fell in line. “Immediately after the incident occurred around 7 p.m. on June 2, senior officers including me were rushed to crash site under instruction of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. We had reached the spot by 11:30 p.m. By that time local villagers had already started rescue operation. The expertise of Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force and Fire Service personnel sped up the operation,” said Satyabrata Sahu, Special Relief Commissioner.

“Aware of importance of ‘Golden Hours’ for accident victims, ambulances were mobilised in large number and injured passengers admitted in the hospital. We have managed to rescue over 1200 passengers,” Mr. Sahu said.

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Hemant Sharma, Industry Secretary, who was asked to be supervise work at crash site, said, “this was a very unfortunate and tragic incident. When 275 people had lost their lives, hundreds of people could be saved from near death-like situation for timely action taken by State government and its agencies.”

“Because of the past experience, Odisha has gained from managing disasters and infrastructure fire and cutters, hydraulic lifter, massive diesel generators, lighting equipment and fast moving ambulances, a large number lives could be saved in the worst train mishap in Odisha,” he elaborated.

Mr. Sharma pointed out that by the time injured victims were shifted, the advance arrangement medical services were made ready in hospitals of Balasore, Soro, Bhadrak and Cuttack. “As soon as they reached hospital, they were taken to medicine and surgery wards. The advance training and the experience that Odisha has gained in last 25 years in responding to disasters has saved the situation. We have also learnt new things how to improve ourselves in situation like this.”

In addition to financial assistance declared by Union Railway Ministry, Mr. Patnaik also announced ex-gratia of ₹5 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased from chief Minister’s Relief Fund. V. K. Pandian, Secretary to Odisha CM, ensured synchronisation in government’s response to the disaster.

In the aftermath of accident, the State government ran 50 buses where general public availed journey from Puri to Kolkata free of cost. People are stranded as train movement was severely impacted on busy Howrah-Chennai route.

Despite the fact that Bharatiya Janata Party was principal challenger of Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, Mr. Patnaik did not make any political statement on the issue.

“Instead, the entire focus of Mr. Patnaik and BJD government was to give its hundred percent efforts to ensure rescue and medical treatment of the injured passengers, recovery of dead bodies and other relief and restoration works on war-footing by the administration,” said senior ruling party leader.

He said poise and zero-politics approach of Odisha CM was evident during the crisis and Mr. Patnaik did not seek to score political brownie points though there was ample opportunity to do so.

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