Under fire from the opposition, Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on Sunday questioned the railways’ decision to exonerate the driver of the train that ploughed through a crowd standing on the track to watch a Ravan effigy burn in the Joda Phatak area of Amritsar on Dussehra.
The accident killed 62 people and injured 72. Mr Sidhu’s wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu was the chief guest at the event, and she was accused of leaving the venue after the accident, a charge both have denied.
“What sort of commission did you set up that you gave a clean chit to him (driver) in one day. Either the driver was permanent or he was engaged for one day. Why do not you say?” said Mr Sidhu.
“When you stop (the train) for cow, you even get an FIR registered if someone is found sitting on a track. And you ran over people and you did not stop. And what was the speed of train? It was more than 100 km per hour… Zip it goes,” Mr Sidhu alleged.
Shiromani Akali Dal has demanded Mr Sidhu’s dismissal from Punjab government and filing a murder case against his wife. The party has accused the organisers of “criminal negligence”. It has also dismissed the magisterial probe ordered by the state government as a “tailor-made inquiry”.
The railways said after the accident that the driver was not at fault and the people on the track were trespassing. It also said the driver managed to slow down the train to around 68 km/hour from the speed of 91 km/hour, a claim Mr Sidhu suggested was false.
“Train was running at a speed of more than 100 km per hour. Some people say the top light of the train was not working. If top light was not there, you cannot get it out of the yard. If top light was working then you can see three km because train had a glass (window) at the front for view,” he said.
He also said the gate-man should have seen the people on the track and alerted the driver. “Near the accident site, there is a railway barrier which is manned by a gateman. From a distance of 300 metres, he can see LED lights installed at the event and people were making videos of the event with their mobile phones,” he said.
With inputs from agencies