All you need to know about the Amritsar train tragedy: A saga of neglect and vulturism

At least 60 people have been killed and many others have been injured when the Jalandhar-Amritsar DMU ran over people gathered to watch Ravan Dahan near the Jora Phatak area in Amritsar last evening. According to reports, a crowd of more than 500 hundred people had gathered near the tracks when the tragedy occurred at about 7 pm yesterday.

Here are some details about the tragedy that has stunned the state of Punjab on the holy occasion of Dussehra:

  • Hundreds of people had gathered to watch the Ravan Dahan being organised on a ground near the railway tracks in the Jora Phatak area. As the tracks were on higher ground than the area near the effigy, many had claimed up to have a better view.
  • Punjab Congress Minister and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu’s wife, Dr Navjot Kaur was the chief guest of the ceremony. She was present during the tragedy and several reports state that she departed from the scene after the incident.
  • According to reports, about 300 people were gathered close to the railway tracks during the ceremony. As the effigy started burning and the firecrackers went off, more people suddenly started rushing towards the tracks which were already crowded.
  •  As scores of people from the grounds area rushed towards the tracks to escape from the heat or to have a better view, people had no time to hear or see the coming 74643 Jalandhar-Amritsar DMU that, according to reports was rushing at a speed of 100 KM per hour.
  • As per reports, the grounds, called locally as Dhobi ghat grounds, is barely a few kilometres away from the Amritsar station and there are manned crossings close by. Reports also say that within seconds of the 74643 DMU running over people, a second train, the Amritsar-Howrah mail rushed over the adjacent tracks and the people who had jumped the first set of tracks in a hurry were mowed down too.
  • Reports emerged later that the organisers of the event had not informed the railways about the event being organised in the area so close to the tracks.
  • The Punjab police have clarified that they had given permission for the event and several police officials were also deployed for providing security to the chief guest, Navjot Kaur, but the event organisers had not sought other necessary permissions like that from the municipal corporation or the fire department. Amritsar Police commissioner SS Srivastava has stated that the event was organised by a local named Mithu Madan’s family. Mithu’s mother is the local Congress councillor of the area.
  • The grounds where the event was held belongs to the municipal corporation, but the corporation has stated that no permission was sought from them to hold the event. The organisers had not even barricaded the area near the tracks to prevent people from going there.
  • The negligence in obtaining the necessary permissions, failure of the police to provide adequate security to the people and keeping them away from the tracks, the organisers not taking adequate measures to either barricade or light the tracks are some of the reasons being cited that resulted in the tragedy.
  • The railway authorities have issued helpline numbers for passengers. All train services have been suspended on the route. However, Railway board chairman Ashwani Lohani has stated that it is wrong to hold the railways responsible for the incident.

Minutes after the incident, there were misleading details and incorrect information being actively circulated on social media. Many prominent people from the media were found propagating wrong ideas and attempting to shift the blame.

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There are also several reports claiming that the police personnel deployed at the site were all busy providing security to the chief guest and they neglected to take adequate measures to safeguard the people. Though the event was not organised for the first time and have been held for quite some years, the local administration is being accused of not taking adequate measures to avoid such an incident.

Navjot Kaur Sidhu, when asked about the incident, stated to the media the she has left the venue when the tragedy happened. She also tried to blame the railways stating that the train was not slowed down. When it was pointed out that the organisers of the event were being blamed , she stated that people should not do politics over it and stated that neither they (herself and the organisers) have put the people on the tracks nor they have run the train over them.

Punjab Congress minister Navjot Singh Sidhu has stated that even if there was negligence at the event, it was not intentional. Their statements are being criticised as insentitive on the social media.

Meanwhile, Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh has announced a day of state-wide mourning and Rs 5 lakhs as compensation to the kin of each deceased person. PM Modi has also expressed his condolences over the incident and has announced Rs 2 lakh as compensation for the family of each of the deceased persons and Rs 50,000 each for the injured.

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