The Railways was not intimated about a Dussehra event along the tracks that led to the deaths of at least 61 people in Amritsar, Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani said in a statement.
He said that the accident occurred at a stretch between two stations — Amritsar and Manawala, and not at a level crossing.
“At midsections, trains run at their assigned speed and people are not expected to be on the tracks. At midsections, there is no railway staff posted. We have staff at level crossings whose job is to regulate traffic,” he said, explaining why the railways was not alerted about the congregation by its staff.
He said that the gateman was 400 metres away at a level crossing. He also said that if the driver had applied emergency breaks, there could have been a bigger tragedy.
He said that the train was running at its assigned speed and initial reports suggest that the driver applied brakes and the train slowed down.
“There was no information and no permission sought from us. The event took place at a place adjoining the railway land in private property,” he said.
Refusing to assign any blame, Lohani, who visited the spot at midnight, said that the national transporter has been carrying out campaigns exhorting people not to trespass. “We will take that forward,” he said.
Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha also said his ministry is not to be blamed for any lapses leading to the disaster.
The Railways was not informed about the Dusshera ceremony near the Jora Phatak vicinity either by the area administration or the event organisers, he added.
“In fact, the Commissioner (Amritsar) in his report has said he has not granted permission to hold the Dusshera festival at the spot,” Sinha, who visited the accident site at midnight, told reporters.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident after visiting injured and kin of those killed in the tragedy and sought the report within four weeks.
The chief minister postponed a trip to Israel and arrived here this morning to assess the damage.
He said four weeks have been given to submit the report to find out who was at fault. The divisional commissioner of Jalandhar has been entrusted with the job of holding the inquiry, he said.
Earlier, a senior railways official told PTI that the gathering of people close to tracks near Amritsar was a ‘clear case of trespassing’ and no permission was sought for the event.
Seeking to shift the blame for the tragedy on the Amritsar administration, official sources said the local authorities were aware of the Dussehra programme and that it was attended by a senior minister’s wife.
“We’re not kept in the loop and we provided no permission for the event. It is a clear case of trespassing and the local administration should take responsibility,” the railway official said.
On questions why the train did not stop despite such a large crowd being there, the official said, “There was so much smoke that the driver was unable to see anything and he was also negotiating a curve.”
At least 61 people were killed and 72 injured Friday evening after a crowd of Dussehra revellers that had spilled onto railway tracks while watching burning of Ravana effigy was run over by a train near Amritsar.
The train was coming from Jalandhar when the accident occurred at Joda Phatak near Amritsar, where at least 300 people were watching ‘Ravana dahan’ at a ground adjacent to the tracks.
The death toll, according to local officials could reach 100.
The railways has issued helpline numbers for the kin of those injured and dead in Amritsar train accident.
These numbers can be used to reach for information on the incident — 01832223171 and 01832564485.
The accident comes days after five people died and around 35 injured after five coaches and the engine of the New Farakka Express derailed near Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh on October 12.
(With agency inputs)