Over 50 people were killed and several injured Friday evening as two trains speeding in opposite directions mowed down people standing on the tracks near a railway crossing watching a Ravan effigy being burnt at a Dussehra celebration here. There were at least 300 spectators at the Dhobi Ghat ground barely 2 km from the Amritsar station. Many of them stood on the tracks close to the Jaura Phatak crossing to get a better view and were taking videos of the burning Ravan as the first of the trains ran them over. The gates at the crossing were closed at the time. It was only after the train had flashed past did the stunned survivors realise what had happened. Most of the casualties appeared to be of those killed by the first train, 74643 Jalandhar-Amritsar DMU, said a senior Railway official. The second train, the 13006 Amritsar-Howrah Express, sped past seconds later and some of those who had jumped on the second set of tracks to escape the first were caught under it, he said.
At 6.50 pm, it was already dark when the incident took place. Bodies were strewn on the tracks and until late tonight, people, many of them crying and screaming, were looking for their missing relatives and friends. There was anger too and many were shouting slogans of protest against the Railways, the state government and the police. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who was to leave for Israel Friday evening, cancelled the trip and announced he would fly to Amritsar on Saturday to assess the damage and meet families of the victims.
Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha, Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani and Northern Railway general manager Vishwesh Chaube are rushing to the spot while Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said immediate relief and rescue operations are being conducted. The state government announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh as compensation to the next of kin of those who were killed and has declared Saturday a day of mourning in the state. Offices and educational institutions will remain shut.
President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the loss of lives. Modi announced Rs 2 lakh compensation for the family of the dead and Rs 50,000 for the injured. He also directed officials to provide immediate assistance. “Extremely saddened by the train accident in Amritsar. The tragedy is heart-wrenching,” he tweeted. “My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and I pray that the injured recover quickly. Have asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required,” he said.
The CM also announced that he had ordered an inquiry into how a Dussehra celebration was being held next to a railway crossing. He has asked all his Cabinet members to reach Amritsar on Saturday. Additional police forces were deployed to assist in the relief work and maintain law and order at the site. The Army also pitched in with ambulances.
The incident took place soon after former MLA Amritsar East Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who is also wife of Punjab Cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and the present MLA of the area, arrived and the effigy of Ravana was set on fire. Sidhu said the Railways should have ensured that trains slow down near that section of the track during Dussehra celebrations. “Every year, Dussehra celebrations take place there,” she said, adding she had left the place before the incident took place. Amritsar Police Commissioner S S Srivastva said that the injured were taken to the civil hospital and Guru Nanak Dev hospital. Punjab Cabinet Minister S Soni who arrived at the spot soon after the incident had to face angry crowds and was roughed up. The crowd also raised slogans against Navjot Kaur Sidhu and the local administration.