Amritsar: The Punjab Police has launched an investigation into the Dussehra tragedy in Amritsar on Friday evening in which a local train crushed at least 59 people while watching the burning of a Ravana effigy from a railway track.
The incident left 72 people injured, some of them in critical condition. They were rushed to government hospitals in the area for treatment.
Bodies of the victims, most of which were dismembered, were being handed over to affected families on Saturday for performing their last rights.
Amritsar Police Commissioner SS Srivastava told the media that the whole situation was being assessed by the police after completion of rescue work late on Friday.
Punjab Police officials began the investigation early on Saturday into the man-made disaster.
The role of train driver, railway officials and local authorities, who gave permission for holding of the event close to the railway tracks, is being probed, police officials said.
Punjab Police officials said that the DMU (diesel multiple unit) driver had been detained at the Ludhiana railway station and was being questioned regarding the incident that took place on Friday night at the Jora Phatak near Dhobi Ghat within Amritsar city.
Sources said that the driver claimed that he was given green signal and all clear and had no idea that hundreds of people were standing on the tracks when the train crossed the area.
No action has so far been initiated against the organisers, who are leaders of the ruling Congress in Punjab, of the Dussehra event. Police sources said that the organisers had gone underground.
Railway officials were also gathering information from the railway linemen posted along the tracks near the Jora Phatak area who failed to inform the DMU driver regarding the presence of over 700 people on the railway tracks who were watching the burning of the Ravan and other effigies during Dussehra celebrations.
Scores of people were roaming on the the railway tracks on Saturday morning to see the accident spot, with the police and local authorities failing to even cordon off the area.
Most of the dead and injured were standing on the railway tracks near the ground where the Ravana effigy was being burnt.
Eyewitnesses said the victims were either watching the burning of Ravana or were recording the event on their mobile.
Over 700 people were watching the huge Ravana effigy going up in flames amid exploding crackers at the Jora Phatak near Dhobi Ghat within Amritsar city when the Jalandhar-Amritsar DMU passenger train coming to Amritsar from Hoshiarpur came hurtling down around 7 pm. It took just about 10-15 seconds for the train to pass — and leave behind a heap of crushed and dismembered bodies.
People standing on the tracks did not realise that the train was approaching fast due to the noise of the firecrackers during the burning effigy. Srivastava said that 58 people were left dead and 72 have been rushed to hospitals in the city, adding that the toll could go up.
Wails and cries filled the air as people frantically looked for their near and dear ones. Severed bodies, including those of children, were lying at the accident site hours after the incident with angry people not allowing authorities to remove them.
Some people blamed Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur, who was the chief guest at the celebrations, saying her late arrival delayed the burning of the effigy by more than half an hour.
The state government has declared a state mourning on Saturday. All offices and educational institutions will remain closed as a mark of respect to those dying in the train tragedy.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, who announced an immediate compensation of Rs 5 lakh each for the families of victims, is scheduled to visit Amritsar on Saturday.
Updated Date: Oct 20, 2018 11:01 AM