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Hari Jaisingh
Hari Jaisingh
Opinion

Amritsar Train Disaster - Stop blame game, ensure public safety!

Hari Jaisingh

Denial of responsibility for any tragic happening is the standard Indian practice in our dirty politics. For the present, I have Amritsar’s Dussehra tragedy in mind when the Jalandhar-Amritsar diesel multiple (DMU) train tore through the assembled crowd on the rail tracks. They were capturing a better view and video shots of the burning of the Ravana effigy at 2 kms distance. As many as 61 persons lost their precious lives. A large number of revelers suffered severe injuries.

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s government has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the tragedy. What is, however, disquieting is dirty politics over the Amritsar mishap. We know this is a futile exercise which is publicly played to confuse the real issues behind the gross negligence of people’s life and safety by the authorities concerned. The chain of events of this shattering tragedy on an auspicious Dussehra night shows how politics is played by everyone, including political leaders, directly or indirectly connected with the event.

Even the claim of the driver of stone pelting by the crowd is at odds with eyewitness accounts and the videos of the incident on social media. Still, there is unlikely to be any probe by the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) into what is this year’s worst railway mishap.

The Amritsar Municipal Corporation says that it had not given permission for organizing the celebrations at the small triangular ground with just two gates – one opening on the main gate and the other facing the railway tracks, besides the open dais at one corner that doubled up as a platform for the Dussehra celebrations. This was, by all means, a risky proposition. Perhaps, the high-profile organizers never bothered about a written order from either the district administration or the Municipal Corporation.

In fact, no one bothered about a possible untoward happening, the usual case of non-governance when it comes to ordinary persons. All that one could see on the dais was the presence of some prominent Congressmen Navjot Singh Sidhu and his wife Navjot Kaur.

Be that as it may. The Dhobi Ghat ground, a small site surrounded by houses on two sides, was not the right location for such a crowd-pulling event, even though a wall separated the ground for the rail track. The location could accommodate around 200 people. This left the 5,000 strong gathering of people with no choice but to climb the wall and occupy the railway track. This could have been anticipated by common sense of the local administration and police personnel. But who cares for the safety of ordinary people?!

It is reported that 25 of the 29 Dussehra events in Amritsar, including the one at Dhobi Ghat, did not have the mandatory clearance from the city’s municipal corporation. Still, local officials and police have pointed fingers at each other as to how these events were allowed to take place without the requisite clearance. This says a lot on the poor state of affairs at the local level.

It so happened that when Ravana’s effigy was set on fire, the crowd started spilling over to the tracks. So, amidst loud music and selfies, no one bothered about the incoming train at that time. Well, the least that the organizers ought to have ensured was barricading either through human chain or by deploying the police to prevent the big crowd from perching on the rail track.

In this complex setting, what were the local railway authorities doing? They had a clear view of the crowd jamming the rail track. It was a simple matter of communication and prompt action. How come railway guards did not act and inform the high-ups? Here, again, our sickening bureaucratized system comes into play which is never guided by humanitarian factors.

It must be said that even in this era of modern technology, our Railways do not have a surveillance system on tracks. Even if we concede that the Railways is not legally responsible for the tragedy as railway minister of state Manoj Sinha claims, then, what about humanitarian and moral responsibility? Let us not forget that our Railways carry crores of passengers everyday in its coaches and that those encroaching on the track are trespassers and they have to be cleared from the tracks, and not mowed down like the people watching the Dussehra celebrations.

It is high time the Railway authorities looked into safety facets of rail operations. Six years ago, a committee under the chairmanship of Anil Kakodkar had a close look at safety-related aspects of the Railways. It must be gathering dust in some corner of the Railways establishment. The Kakodkar panel had suggested a statutory rail safety regulator. What happened to this suggestion?

Railways Minister Piyush Goyal needs to act upon the various suggestions urgently instead of projecting a full-size portrait of beaming Prime Minister Modi on his Railways website. Sycophancy does not work in matters of citizens’ safety!

- Hari Jaisingh, Senior Journalist.