In his written statement to the Railways administration, Arvind Kumar, the driver of the local Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) train that crushed 59 people near Amritsar Friday evening has claimed that he did, in fact, apply the emergency brakes but continued with the journey as people “started attacking the train by throwing stones”.
“Suddenly I saw a crowd of people near the track. I constantly sounded the horn as I immediately applied the emergency brake. Despite applying emergency brake, some people were run over by the train. The train was almost coming to a halt when a very large crowd started attacking the train by throwing stones. Considering the safety of my passengers, I proceeded with the train,” Kumar has said in his statement.
This claim by the driver is at odds with eyewitness accounts, and the several videos of the incident circulating on social media. However, there will be no probe by the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) into what is this year’s biggest railway mishap.
This is because the Railways Ministry is not calling this an accident — as its passengers were not affected and its assets were not damaged. This, in the understanding of the Railways, was the result of trespassing on the tracks. Since trains have the right of way, humans on the tracks are deemed to be unlawful obstructions. It follows that the onus of fixing responsibility for Friday’s deaths does not lie with the Railways.
“This was a case of trespassing. People were not supposed to be there. In fact local people were very well aware that it was a busy section where trains pass almost every 10 minutes. Law and order is a state subject, so we will cooperate with any probe by the state government,” Northern Railway General Manager Vishwesh Chaube told The Sunday Express. “We will increase our periodic advertising campaigns to sensitise people about not trespassing into railway tracks.”
Amrit Singh, Station Director Railways, Amritsar, told The Sunday Express that the Railways are “very clear that trespassing was attempted on our property. The Railway authorities never broke any rule or law in this case, so probe should be conducted on the attempt of tresspass”.
Asked who was then responsible for the incident, Singh said: “It is very much clear that this incident was not our responsibility. The municipal corporation said that it had granted no permission for the function, the venue was big enough to hold only around 200 people, but more than 2,000 were present. Organisers and individuals have violated rules. The Railways broke no rules.”
Sources, however, said that even if the Railways administration does not invite the CRS, there are provisions in The Railways Act for the CRS to take suo motu cognizance and initiate a probe into any mishap in the Railways system resulting in loss of lives. Sections 113 and 114 of the Act allow the Railways to notify “any accident of any other description” — not just derailment and collision — involving “loss of any human life” as a Railway accident, the sources said. While trespassing deaths in the Railways system is not new, 59 deaths in one go is rare.
Meanwhile, information posted on the National Train Enquiry System, the Indian Railways’ live train tracking portal, shows that the killer DMU 74643 left Mananwala station at 6.45 pm, eight minutes later than its scheduled departure time of 6.37 pm, but reached Amritsar on time at 7 pm.
Mananwala is 10 km from Amritsar, and 7 km from the site of the tragedy near Jaura Phatak. The DMU had left Jalandhar on time (5.10 pm), but reached Mananwala late — at 6.44 pm instead of its scheduled time of 6.35 pm.
Ferozepur Divisional Railway Manager Vivek Kumar told The Sunday Express: “Towards the end of the journey, there is some makeup time available.” He said the loco pilot was “well within the permissible [speed] limit”, and “even if it (the train) is delayed at Mananwala by five or seven minutes it will reach Amritsar in time.”
Driver Arvind Kumar, 32, was accompanied by Senior Goods Guard Mithilesh Kumar, 40.