IMAGE: Punjab police personnel at the scene of the accident along railway tracks in Amritsar on Saturday. Photograph: PTI Photo
Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha on Saturday ruled out any punitive action against the driver of the train that mowed down Dussehra revellers in Amritsar, saying there was no negligence on the part of the national transporter and also advised people not to organise such events near tracks.
The accident has claimed 59 lives so far out of which 39 bodies have been identified by the authorities.
The railways has maintained that it was not at fault because it had no intimation about the Dussehra event.
"The incident was not a railways' fault. There was no lapse on our part and no action against the driver will be initiated. People should refrain from organising such events near tracks in future. I think if precaution had been taken, the accident could have been averted," he said, adding wherever such events are held, the district administration concerned gives permission.
The minister said drivers are given specific instructions on where to slow down the train.
"There was a curve. The driver couldn't have seen it. What should we order an inquiry about? Trains travel in speed only," said Sinha when he was asked if an inquiry would be ordered against the driver.
Asked about Opposition attack on former MLA Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who was the chief guest at the Dussehra function, Sinha said nobody should do politics on this issue. "It is a tragic incident."
Vivek Kumar, the Divisional Railway Manager, Ferozpur, said the driver has been questioned but no lapse could be found at his end. He said that while the train was travelling at a speed of 91 km/hr but after spotting the crowd on the track, it slowed down to 68 km/hr before the first impact.
"People were trespassing the railway lines when the incident took place. Due to darkness and sound of firecrackers, the people could not hear the sound of train. The driver did not see the crowd earlier as there was a curve. The driver tried to apply brakes and minimise the speed to the train running at 90 Km/hour but it takes time to stop the train," he said.
During the questioning, the driver also said that he had tried to stop the train but couldn't.
Earlier, Ashwani Lohani, Chairman, Railway Board, had said the mishap 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 the gate man 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.
The train was running at its assigned speed and initial reports suggest that the driver applied brakes and the train slowed down, he said.
"There was no information and no permission sought from us. The (Dussehra) event took place at a place adjoining the railway land in private property," he said.