Amid a blame-game over the Amritsar tragedy, a case was filed in a Bihar court on Monday holding organisers of the Dussehra event and chief guest Navjot Kaur Sidhu responsible for mowing down of several revellers by a passing train, while the National Human Rights Commission served notices to the Railways and the Punjab government.
Congress MP Sunil Jakhar and Punjab minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, however, came forward in defence of Sidhu and sought to put the blame on the Railways for the tragic incident in which nearly 60 people, including migrants from Bihar, died while watching the Dussehra celebrations from across the tracks on Friday evening.
A similar petition was filed by an advocate on Monday in the Punjab and Haryana high court, seeking a probe by the Central Bureau Investigation or a special investigation team into the accident. Dinesh Kumar Dakoria, the petitioner, too has blamed the event organisers for the tragedy.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who has gone to Israel, reviewed the situation through video-conference with the state government officials and asked them to expedite the process of providing relief and compensation to the families of those dead and to the injured.
People angry over the train accident had pelted stones and clashed with security personnel on Sunday. They sat on the railway tracks, where the accident happened, and protested. They were later removed by authorities.
During the review meeting, the officials also told Singh that all victims, except one, had been identified.
Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, meanwhile, returned from the United States, with officials attributing the delay in his return to non-availability of tickets and problem of connecting flights.
Goyal, who had gone to the US for an award ceremony, had said soon after the incident that he was cancelling all his engagements there to immediately return to India. On his arrival, Goyal was briefed about the latest developments regarding the incident.
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission issued notices to the Railways and the Punjab government, observing that it cannot be called a “sane act” for people to sit on railway tracks, but the “negligence on the part of the district authorities is apparent” as well in this “bizarre and horrific incident”.
While it is rare for such a large number of revellers getting mowed down by a train in a single incident, nearly 50,000 people have lost their lives between 2015 and 2017 on railway tracks after being hit by trains, according to official data from the Indian Railways.
Detailed reports have been sought from the state’s chief secretary and from the chairman of the Railway Board in four weeks, an NHRC spokesperson said.
“It seems that the local authorities and the organisers did not properly manage the crowd, gathered to watch the Dussehra celebrations. It was the responsibility of the State to provide proper safety and protection to the citizens during the event,” the NHRC said while taking suo motu cognisance of media reports about the incident.
The railway authorities have stated that they cannot be blamed, as they were not informed about the event, while Punjab government has ordered a magisterial probe.
In distant Muzaffarpur, Bihar, a complaint case was filed in a court against Navjot Kaur Sidhu, seeking registration of a case against her.
The complaint claimed that Sidhu and organisers of the Dussehra event were solely responsible for the tragedy and the court should order a trial against her.
The case was filed by a social activist in a Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court, which fixed November 3 as the date of hearing.
The complainant contended that a large crowd had gathered there due to Sidhu’s presence and her emotive speech led to a surge in the crowd that spilled over to the railway track.
Besides, all the security personnel present at the venue were engaged in providing safety and security to Kaur, instead of controlling the crowd, members of which mere mowed down by a train near the Joda Phatak, when they were watching the burning of a Ravan effigy while standing on the railway tracks, the complaint said.
Hashmi alleged that Kaur, who was a doctor by profession, instead of helping the victims, fled the scene and made a false alibi that she was not present at the site when the accident occurred.
The footage of the incident shown on television had hurt him deeply, the complainant said, while praying for initiating a case against Kaur under Indian Penal Code sections 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) among others.
If held guilty, the accused could be sent to jail for three months to two years.
Amid calls from opposition parties Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party for action against the Sidhu couple, Congress MP Partap Singh Bajwa sought government job for family member of each victim who lost life in the incident.
Punjab minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, however, defended Kaur, saying she was not at fault and blamed the railway gateman for the incident. He also rubbished the Shiromani Akali Dal’s demand of removing her husband Sidhu from the cabinet over the incident.
Earlier, Sidhu had also targeted the Railways, asking how a “clean chit” was given to the loco-pilot of the train within “one day”.
Defending his wife, the Congress leader had said as soon as she got to know about the accident, she went to the hospital to visit the injured.