As Amritsar prepares to celebrate Dussehra, for many the day is a painful reminder of the tragedy that snatched away loved ones of sixty families last year during the festivities on October 19. Around dusk on that fateful day, a DMU (diesel multiple unit) had mowed down a crowd standing on the rail tracks near Jaura Railways crossing to watch Ravana effigy burning. On Tuesday, families of the victims of the tragedy will sit on a dharna at the track where the accident occurred to demand that jobs for next of kin and punishment to the guilty.
A year later, these families still await for the government jobs promised to the victims’ kin, and punishment to the guilty.
Tears rolled down cheeks of Preeti, who had lost her husband Dinesh (32) and son Abhishek (9) in the tragedy.
“Mere compensation is not enough. I need a government job and want that action be taken against the guilty. Otherwise, I will remain mentally disturbed for the rest of my life,” Preeti said. The victims’ families were given immediate compensation of money of Rs 5 lakh by Punjab government and Rs 2 lakh by Union government.
The victims claim that former Punjab minister and Amritsar (East) MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu had not kept his promise to provide the job to one member of each family or providing compensation from his own pocket. After the tragedy, Sidhu had stated that out total 270 vacancies of fire safety workers, 38 jobs will given to the kin of victims. He had also made a claim of providing Rs 10,000 monthly to 8 families, who were left with no one to support family.
Deepak Kumar, who had lost his father Gurinder Kumar and uncle Pawan Kumar in the train accident, claimed that no family had received any such amount. Navjot Singh Sidhu or his wife did not respond to phone calls or text messages.
“Most of the families lost their bread earner in the tragedy. These families were dependent on daily income and that too stopped after this tragedy,” said Deepak, adding: “Navjot Singh Sidhu never met us directly. It was always his close aides and Navjot Kaur Sidhu who were assuring us that all promises will be kept including the one government job for every family. We last met Navjot Kaur Sidhu in the month of February. At that time too, she told us that our files to get jobs was cleared by Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. No one from Navjot Singh Sidhu’s camp came to meet us after that. Recently, we held dharna outside the home of the Sidhu family and still no one came out to meet us.” The protest by victims of the Dusshera accident are be spearheaded by Deepak Kumar.
On September 28, 30 families had staged a protest outside the house of former Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu in Amritsar, demanding jobs for the kin of the dead. The former Punjab minister’s wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu was the chief guest at the event held on October 19 last year. The event had been organised by close aide of Navjot Singh Sidhu and local leader, Mithu Madan.
“My father Baldev Kumar who received multiple fractures with severe backbone injuries died five months after the accident. We are still running around to get his name registered in the list of those who died in the tragedy,” Rajesh Kumar said on Monday.
Kanta Rani, wife of Baldev, said, “After the demise of my husband, getting two square meals a day has become difficult.”
Monica, who had lost her husband Jagdish, said, “A widow can’t survive without a job or money in hand. The compensation given by the governments won’t last long.”
Sidhu couple has been in self-imposed exile since the departure of Navjot Singh Sidhu from Punjab Cabinet earlier this year and both have made no statement on any issue including the pending promises of jobs to Dussehra tragedy victims.
A large section of Congress party too has turned against Sidhu over the issue, said sources.
Amritsar Urban Congress President Jatinder Sonia said, “Navjot Singh Sidhu had made promises to the victims. But now he doesn’t meet them. He should explain his position on the plight of victims. We all know who had organised that event and who was chief guest. People come to me and tell that Sidhu had made promises. But he is nowhere now.”
On if Congress government in state had no responsibility towards the victims, she added, “Government is doing what can be done. It is demand of a government job and not a toy. So if government has said something then it must do the needful under the given law.”
But it wasn’t Sidhu alone who had promised jobs to victims’ kin. Amritsar Mayor and Congress leader Karamjit Singh Rintu had also announced that Municipal Corporation will provide permanent jobs to one eligible family member of victims and rehabilitate the victims’ kin who are not qualified for any job. A meeting of MC house was called to pass the resolution in this regard on October 27 last year. However, the meeting was postponed till further orders citing the festival of Karva Chauth. There has been no word on the matter since then, and the mayor now says that he was awaiting clearance from state government.
“We can provide job only after clearance from CM’s office. There are many issues which government has to address before deciding on giving jobs to victims. We can give jobs to victims by ignoring norms, but then there would be petition in court and such orders can be stayed. That would be more painful for victim’s families. Promise of job is under consideration of Punjab government and we are ready to give job if green signal is given to us after removal of all legal problem,” said Mayor Rintu.
Deepak Kumar hit back: “We have huge record of video statements and news paper clipping cutting of Navjot Singh Sidhu and Mayor Karamjit Singh Rintu in which they clearly said that every family will get a government job….These are just excuses. There is nothing that a government can’t do.”
Asked about the promises made by Navjot Singh Sidhu and Mayor Rintu, district administration spokesman said, “There has been no such notification from Punjab government or district administration related to this. We have no such instructions to give job to victim families. There is no communication between Punjab government and district administration so far.”
SAD organises candle light March
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), along with victims’ families, held a candlelight march from Ramtalai to the Dhobhi Ghat near Jaura Phatak Monday.
SAD leaders including former minister Bikram Singh Majithia, Harmeet Dhillon, Virsa Singh Valtoha and Veer Singh Lopoke held placards demanding punishment to the guilty by registering criminal cases against them.
“It was an unauthorised function organised by a close aide of the Sidhu couple. Why former Minister Navjot Sidhu had gone back on his promise to provide jobs and pension to all the victims of the ghastly train tragedy,” asked Majithia.
He added, “Three inquiries had been held in the case but no one had been booked and no action taken in the matter. Inquiry conducted by the Jalandhar Divisional Commissioner was only aimed at saving Congressmen who were directly responsible for the tragic incident. The Commissioner was not expected to take action against the then Cabinet minister and his wife and this is exactly what happened. Even the close aide of the Sidhu couple — Mithu Madan — was shielded making the inquiry a cover-up operation.”
(WITH PTI INPUTS)