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Railways, civic body say no permission was taken for Amritsar event

Last updated on: October 20, 2018 20:59 IST

IMAGE: People surround the body of a victim lying on a railway track after a train runs over a crowd in Amritsar. Photograph: Munish Sharma/Reuters

The railways will launch a massive drive against trespassing on tracks across its network, Chairman Railway Board Ashwani Lohani said on Saturday, a day after 59 Dussehra revellers were run over by a train in an incident described by the railways as a 'clear case of trespassing'.

Lohani said the railways has launched such campaigns in the past as well, but intermittently.

The national transporter had initiated a drive last year too, after a slew of 'selfie deaths' on tracks were reported from across the country.

"We will launch a nationwide campaign against trespassing and the dangers thereof. This is all that we can do to avoid such tragedies," he said.

In the first six months of 2017, more than eight people lost their lives in accidents while clicking selfies on tracks, officials said, adding a campaign was launched after these reports.

In 2018, as of September, 1,20,923 people were arrested and prosecuted by the railway protection force (RPF) for intruding the railway system.

Under section 147 of Indian Railway Act, a total fine of Rs 2.94 crore was imposed on them by courts during the period, according to data provided by the railways.

In 2017, 1,75,996 persons were arrested and prosecuted by the RPF for trespassing the railways system and a fine of Rs 4.35 crore was imposed on them.

"We will increase the frequency of such campaigns and budget will not be a constraint," General Manager, Northern Railway, Vishwesh Chaube told PTI.

The gathering of people close to tracks was a 'clear case of trespassing', a senior official had said Friday, after the accident.

Lohani said the railways was not intimated about a Dussehra event along the tracks.

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 brakes, 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.

The Amritsar police also said that though they had given a 'no objection' certificate for the Dussehra celebration near Joda Phatak, the organisers did not take permission from the municipal corporation and the pollution department.

According to the permission document, the organisers were given the go-ahead following their assurance that they would follow the directions of the Punjab and Haryana high court on usage of loud speakers.

They had also assured that traffic movement would not be disrupted and nobody would carry any weapon at the event, it said.

The organiser, Saurabh Madan, who is also the president of Dussehra Committee (East) and husband of Congress Councillor Vijay Madan, had sought permission for the October 19 event.

He had also sought security from the police as Cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu were supposed to attend the event.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Amrik Singh Powar said the organisers were asked to also seek permission from the municipal corporation and pollution department as well.

"If any of these permissions is not granted, then the permission for holding a Dussehra event cannot be granted," Powar said.

Earlier on Saturday, the Amritsar Municipal Corporation (AMC) said no permission was granted to hold Dussehra celebrations at 'Dhobi ghat' ground.

"Nobody was given permission for organising the Dussehra event. Moreover, nobody had applied for the permission with the Amritsar Municipal Corporation," AMC commissioner Sonali Giri said.

Giri said unlike last year, the event was held on a large scale on Friday evening.

Opposition parties, including the Akali Dal, Bharatiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party have demanded strict action against those who gave permission for holding the event. They have also held the Congress-led Punjab government responsible for allowing the Dussehra celebrations near the railway track.

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