Khagaria: 37 pilgrims including women and children standing on rail tracks were killed when a speeding express train ploughed into them on Monday in Bihar`s Khagaria district, triggering angry protests by locals who attacked train drivers, set ablaze a coach and vandalised the station.
The `kanwarias` or devotees of Lord Shiva were walking along the tracks at Dhamara Ghat station after alighting from the Samastipur-Saharsa passenger when the Saharsa-Patna Rajya Rani Express travelling at 80 kmph, ran over them, a senior railway official said. Khagaria is about 160 km from Patna.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said that 37 persons, including women and children, were killed. Among them were 13 women, four children and 20 men. The victims hailed from Khagaria, Sahrsa, Munger and Naughachia. 24 others who sustained injuries were admitted to the hospital here.
Soon after the incident at 8.40 am, a violent mob assaulted the train driver, set on fire an AC compartment and engine of another train, vandalized the station and even held a few rail staff hostage.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Chief Minister appealed for calm.
Railway Board Chairman Arunendra Kumar said that the express was not supposed to halt at Dhamara Ghat and was given clearance to pass through, but the pilgrims on the tracks thought they could stop the train.
Though the driver applied the emergency brakes, it was too late by then, he said, adding an internal inquiry has been ordered into the accident.
The pilgrims were going to nearby Katyani Sthan temple to offer `jalabhishek` to Lord Shiva on the fourth and final Monday of the holy month of Shrawan.
Superintendent of Police SK Jha said over phone that the engine of the Samastipur-Saharsa passenger train and an AC coach of Saharsa-Patna Rajyarani Express were set on fire by enraged local people.
The two drivers of the express train, Rajaram Paswan and Sushil Kumar Suman, fled from the spot after being attacked. They later contacted railway officials to informing them that they were safe, ECR CPRO Amitabh Prabhakar said.
The Prime Minister "appealed for calm in the area so that
the relief and rescue operations can be carried out without any hindrance," a statement by PMO said.
The Prime Minister directed the Railway Ministry to deploy all available resources for rescue and relief operations, it said.
Minister of state for Railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that the express was travelling at a speed of 80 km per hour when the accident occurred.
He said although relief trains carrying doctors and nurses were sent from Saharsha and Barauni, they could not reach the spot as the law and order situation there was not conducive because of protests by angry people.
The Bihar Chief Minister announced a compensation of
Rs two lakh for family of each of the deceased and free medical treatment for the injured.
He ruled out lapse by the state administration. "Our officers from Khagaria and Saharsa districts have rushed to the accident site.
"It is a difficult area which could be reached only after three hours of walk from either of the district because of damage to a bridge and no road to the area."
Kumar told reporters that he talked to Railway minister Malliarjun Kharge and urged him to provide the maximum compensation to victims considering the fact that "this is a rarest of rare incident".
He said he spoke to General Manager of East Central Railway Madhuresh Kumar five times to evaluate the situation and assured the assistance of the state government.
Asked if the accident was Railways fault, Kumar said this was for the Railways to ascertain.
He said that on the basis of his experience as Railway minister an inquiry by a railway safety commissioner would be done soon.
He said it was a matter of investigation whether speed restriction was ordered considering that the day was the last Monday of Shravan and a large crowd of pilgrims were expected.
Told about local people resorting to arson, the chief minister said government officials were at the spot.
He said he offered the Railways post-mortem services in state hospitals.
The accident happened around 8:40 am, sources in the Hajipur-based East Central Railway said.
He said General Manager of ECR Madhuresh has reached the accident spot with a relief train and a team of doctors.
The Railway has issued helpline numbers Patna 0612-2206965, Samastipur 06274-221741, Mansi 06244-233234, Khagaria 06244-222049 and Saharsa 06478-227355.
ECR sources said that four trains were cancelled and four others terminated elsewhere due to disruption of traffic on Saharsa-Mansi section.
The trains cancelled included 15209 Saharsa-Amritsar Jansewa Express, 15275 Saharsa-Barauni Express, 12568 Patna-Saharsa Rajrani Express and 15282 Patna-Saharsa Kosi Express.
Many trains including Amritsar-Saharsa Garibrath was terminated earlier at Begusarai, Sealdah-Saharsa at Mansi and Barauni-Saharsa at Khagaria, it said.