Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday ordered a magisterial probe into the Amritsar train accident after visiting injured and kin of those killed in the tragedy even as he urged the Opposition not to politicise the issue.
The chief minister postponed a trip to Israel and arrived in Amritsar on Saturday morning to assess the damage.
"We are announcing a magisterial probe into the incident," Singh said while talking to media in Amritsar.
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.
At least 59 people were killed on Friday evening after a crowd of Dussehra revellers that had spilled on to railway tracks while watching the burning of a Ravana effigy was run over by a train near Joda Phatak here.
At least 300 people were watching the 'Ravana dahan' at a ground adjacent to the tracks.
Singh visited the injured in Amandeep Hospital, Civil Hospital and Guru Nanak Dev Hospital on Saturday, where he met the injured and directed the doctors to provide them best possible medical treatment.
He expressed grief at the incident and extended his government's full support to the victims and their families. He observed that two little girls he met at a hospital had lost their entire families in the tragedy, which the whole nation was mourning.
He said this was not the time to play political games on the issue and urged the opposition parties to join hands with the government in providing relief work to the victims.
He said compensation of Rs 5 lakh each for the families of the deceased had already been announced by the state government. Besides, the government would bear the cost of medical treatments of the injured admitted to different hospitals, he told reporters.
"59 people were killed and 57 injured in the accident," he said, adding, "Except nine, most of the bodies have been identified."
The chief minister said he was at Delhi airport to leave for Tel Aviv when he heard of the tragic incident. He said he had to rush back after postponing his Israel visit.
He said he wanted to visit Amritsar on Thursday night itself, but was advised against it by the district authorities who did not want a VIP movement to divert attention from the urgent rescue and relief efforts needed at that hour.
After landing at the Amritsar airport this morning, Singh reached the accident site. He met senior officials and members of a crisis management group to take stock of the relief work.
He was accompanied by Health Minister Brahm Mohindra, Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, Education Minister O P Soni, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, among others.
Top police officials have also been asked to stay in Amritsar to provide immediate assistance.
Residents stage protest at accident site
Scores of people staged a sit-in on railway tracks in Amritsar on Saturday, demanding action against the erring officials and train driver and seeking adequate compensation for the victims.
The protesters raised slogans against the state government and demanded action against the train driver.
One of the protesters alleged the train passed through the area at a high speed and that the driver did not slow down the train despite the presence of a large crowd.
Later, police chased away the protesters when they tried to move towards residential areas from the railway tracks.
Police have barricaded the area to prevent the protesters from reassembling.
"Why did the government not ensure proper security arrangements at the time of Dussehra festival? Why such function was allowed to take place near railway tracks?" Sujit Singh, one of protesters, said.
Another protester demanded that the victims be given adequate compensation.
Some protesters blocked the GT Road near the train accident site. They also demanded government jobs for the kin of those killed.
A resident blamed Navjot Kaur Sidhu, the wife of Punjab minister Navjot Sidhu who represents the area in the assembly, for the tragedy.
"The tragic incident could have been averted, had Navjot Kaur Sidhu turned up at the venue on time and had the function not been delayed," said Deepak who works as a painter.
He said that every year, the effigy of Ravana was burnt between 5.30 pm and 6 pm, but this year it could not happen as Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who was the chief guest at the event, 'got late'.
The effigy was burnt around 7 pm. "Because of darkness, the tragedy occurred," he added.
According to villagers, the burning of Ravana effigy as part of Dussehra celebrations has been taking place at the same venue for over 20 years.
But, what has been a source of joy and excitement to the young and the old for over two decades turned out to be a nightmare on Friday.
37 trains cancelled, 16 diverted
The railways cancelled 37 trains and diverted 16 trains on Saturday, officials said.
Giving details, the railways said 10 mail/express trains and 27 passenger trains were cancelled. While 16 trains were diverted and reached their destination through a different route, 18 trains were short terminated, Northern Railways spokesperson Deepak Kumar said.
The route between Jalandhar and Amritsar was suspended, he said.
The railways maintains it had no information about the Dussehra function held near the tracks.
Chairman Railway Board Ashwani Lohani said in a statement that the accident occurred at a midsection between the Amritsar and Manawala stations and not at a level crossing.
"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.
"At midsections trains run at their assigned speeds and people are not expected to be on the tracks. At midsections there is no railway staff posted. We have staff at the level crossings whose job is to regulate traffic," he added, explaining why the railways was not alerted about the congregation by its staff.
According to Lohani, the gateman was 400 metres away at a level crossing.
If the driver had applied emergency brakes, there could have been a bigger tragedy, he said.
The train was running at assigned speed and initial reports suggest that the driver applied brakes and the train slowed down, the top official said.
Refusing to assign any blame, Lohani, who visited the spot at midnight, said the the national transporter has been carrying out campaigns exhorting people not to trespass.
"We will take that forward," he said.