Amritsar Congress leader who organised Dussehra celebrations tells ThePrint he had taken police permission but not informed railways.
Amritsar: Congress leader Saurabh Madaan, who organised the Dussehra celebrations in Amritsar where at least 60 people were killed after a speeding train mowed them down, said he had taken police permission for the event but had not informed the railways.
“I met DCP (Amrik Singh) Powar before organising the whole thing,” Madaan told ThePrint, adding that there were at least 40 policemen on duty at the spot near Jora Phatak Friday evening when the horrific tragedy took place.
But Madaan said he had not approached the railways for permission or informed them about the event on Vijayadashami when the effigy of Ravan is burnt. “Our function had nothing to do with the railways. Whatever happened was an accident,” he said.
Questions have been raised about why two trains that passed the area did not slow down despite the presence of a large number of people near the tracks, with one of them ploughing through crowds watching the Ravan dahan.
Railway authorities have said that the trains would have slowed down if they had been informed about the gathering. Previous organisers of the event said they used to inform railway authorities about the event.
‘Railways informed in the past’
Former corporator Mandeep Singh Manna, who organised Dussehra celebrations at the same spot in 2015 and 2016, told ThePrint that as the organiser he made sure that he informed the railways about the event.
“I used to meet the concerned officials and tell them that during the evening when the function is being held the trains should be stopped for at least half an hour on both sides of the tracks,” Manna said.
“If they have to cross they should do so very slowly. The railway officials were most cooperative and we had no problem. But this year it seems the requisite permission was not taken,” he alleged.
Manna added that constant announcements have to be made from the stage asking people to get away from the tracks.
“Apart from the announcements I used to have a dedicated team of at least 50 persons to go to the tracks and move the people from there so that nothing untoward happened,” added Manna.
Amritsar City DCP Amrik Singh Powar confirmed that Madaan, the son of the Congress municipal corporator of the ward where the incident took place, had sought police permission to organise it.
“The permission to hold the Dussehra celebrations were given but the festivities were not supposed to spill over to the railway tracks,” Powar told ThePrint.
‘Crowd warned over loudspeaker’
Madaan claimed that the organisers were constantly requesting the public through loudspeakers not to stand close to the railway track to watch the celebrations. “We must have made this announcement at least 15 times but people did not listen,” he said.
Madaan said that his cousin and his friends were among those killed in the tragedy.
“Two trains crossed within a minute of one another. When the first train crossed people got off the tracks. They heard its horn too. But the second train that was entering Amritsar came without any horn and was hurtling down,” he said.
“Normally trains cross this area slowly as it is heavily populated and is approaching the railway station. There was no alarm heard either that the crossing ahead had closed down,” he said.
Madaan owes his allegiance to the Navjot Singh Sidhu camp in the Amritsar municipal Corporation. Madaan had widely advertised the event organised by the Dussehra Committee (East) with pictures of Sidhu and his wife on the posters.
Sidhu’s wife Dr Navjot Kaur was the chief guest at the function.
Madaan said that the empty plot where he had organised the Dussehra event was used each year for the celebrations.
“Almost 4,000-5,000 persons attended the function. None of them crossed the boundary wall towards the tracks. The people on the tracks had come on the tracks from the other side,” he added.
Although Dussehra celebrations were not held on this plot last year, it has been used to celebrate Dussehra for almost 10 years, said Jeet Singh Bhatia, a corporator whose ward is located next to the ground.
The one-acre plot where the incident took place falls in Amritsar East, and is sandwiched between the city’s Golden Avenue and the twin train tracks. The Amritsar railway station is about 3-4 km from the spot. A 5-6 feet boundary wall of the railway separates the tracks from the ground, railway officials said.
The area beyond the railway tracks is heavily populated, where labour and lower-middle class families live in the Mohkampura and Rasulpura colonies. The Dussehra organised in this ground is a major attraction for the residents of the colonies as it is the closest to them.