There’s been no move to track Dussehra event organiser Mithu Madaan. Two inquiries have been ordered — one administrative, the other a criminal probe.
Chandigarh: Public anger is mounting due to inaction, three days after the Amritsar train tragedy left 60 dead.
There has been no move to apprehend and question Congress leader Saurabh Madaan alias Mithu, who organised Dussehra celebrations next to railway tracks without informing the railway authorities. Mithu, son of woman councilor Vijay Madaan, had gone “underground” following the incident.
Instead of tracking him down and questioning him, an ugly blame game has broken out between Congress leaders and railway authorities.
The Madaans belong to Navjot Singh Sidhu’s ‘camp’ in the Congress, and the Punjab cabinet minister’s wife Dr Navjot Kaur was the chief guest at the function.
Sidhu, the local MLA, has laid the blame squarely at the railways’ door, saying the train driver should have been alert to the presence of the crowd on the tracks. The railway authorities, meanwhile, have completely washed their hands of the accident, saying the crowd was trespassing on the tracks.
State Congress chief Sunil Jakhar and Sidhu are set to lead a candle march in the city Monday in the memory of those who died.
Two probes on
Two inquiries are being held — a magisterial probe has been ordered by Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh under Jalandhar’s divisional commissioner B. Purushartha. He is to submit a report within four weeks.
The second inquiry, ordered by the state DGP, is being conducted by ADGP Railway Police I.P.S. Sahota. This inquiry follows the registration of an FIR against unknown persons by the railway police, Amritsar.
While the magisterial probe is administrative, the latter is a criminal investigation.
Purushartha is already in Amritsar and has started the investigation. “We will be summoning the organisers. Also, we have fixed 25 and 29 October as the two days of public hearing,” he told ThePrint.
“Anyone, including the affected and eyewitnesses, is free to approach us and give any information which can help us in the probe.”
Sahota, meanwhile, said he had visited the site of the accident and also started forensic examination of the DMU which mowed down the people.
“A team of forensic experts has been called in from Chandigarh. We have written to the DRM, Ferozepur Division, to give us details of the train driver and the crossing gate-man. We will be questioning them soon,” he said.
Whose fault is it anyway?
Organisers: Speaking to ThePrint before he went underground, Mithu had admitted that he had not contacted the railway authorities for any permission. He said the function had nothing to do with the railways, even though any preemptive information could have meant cautioning the driver of the train.
Balwinder Singh, an eyewitness, said: “Mithu Madaan erected a large LED screen on the top of a residential building adjoining the dhobi ghat ground to attract maximum number of people to watch the festivities. The height of the stage inside the ground was at par with the boundary wall separating the ground and the tracks, so it was visible to those standing on the tracks.”
Although announcements were made from the stage asking the public to step away from the tracks, the organisers did not have their own men near the tracks to prevent them. “This was the practice followed when the celebrations were organised on this spot in earlier years,” said Mandeep Singh Manna, a former councillor.
Police: There was substantial police deployment because Sidhu was expected to attend. However, “cops remained mute spectators. No policeman on duty ordered the organisers to get the people off the tracks. There were two policemen standing on the tracks right next to us”, said Sapna, a survivor.
Mithu only sought police permission to hold the function, but the municipal corporation which owns the land was not approached. The police granted a conditional permission letter which said the function can be held only if other permissions from the corporation, pollution control board, PWD etc. have been granted.
Amritsar Police Commissioner S.S. Srivastava said 20 such permissions were given for Dussehra celebrations this year.
Municipal corporation: The municipal corporation said the organisers should have approached it first, as per procedure. Only once the corporation has given conditional permission can the police issue permission.
Executive officer Sushant Kumar said the corporation had given permission for four similar functions this year, but not to the one where the incident took place.
“The organisers did not even give us an application,” he said.
Railways: “The DMU crosses the area every day, but at a lower speed than Dussehra day,” said Maninder Singh, a local.
“The train was running late and the driver was trying to reach Amritsar station on time. Normally, the speed of the train is about 40-50 km/h but that evening it was almost 90 km/h,” he said.
Locals have demanded the arrest of the railway employee who was manning the jora fatak (twin track crossing), alleging that he is an alcoholic who had turned the guard room into a watering hole.
“The crossing is visible from the spot where the accident took place. Was it not his duty to inform the driver that there are crowds gathered on the tracks and the train should slow down?” asked Balwinder Singh.
The railway authorities have replaced the gate-man, while giving a clean chit to train driver Arvind Kumar.