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Amritsar Tragedy

Dalvinder Singh Grewal

Jan 3, 2010
The Amritsar Tragedy

Col Dr. D S Grewal

The mowing down of around 60 and injuring around 50 (forty being very serious) at Amritsar Dhobi Ghat in Chaura Bazaar area on the eve of Dussehra (19-10-2018) by DMU Train moving at a speed of 110 kmph has shocked India especially Punjab. More shocking is the politicking on the dead; the mudslinging through the media between the parties at the state and the center; manipulating reports by the media according to the requirement of their bosses to make it the best chance as a propaganda for the forthcoming elections. It was a wrong declaration by MoS Railways to give a clean chit to the driver, the gateman and even to the station masters of Manawalla and Amritsar and the controller at Amritsar without holding any reliable inquiry. It was also equally wrong to say (Mr Navjot Singh Sidhu) that since the killing was caused on railway land by the fast-moving DMU directly under the eyes of the gateman, the railways are totally responsible for all this and not the organiser or the state administration since nothing happened in the area of the event i.e., within the walls of the Dhobi Ghat area where the event has been organized for the last 40 years. Thus both are trying to wash off their hands of the tragedy. The preliminary evidence, including the circumstantial evidence; points to the involvement of organizers of the function, the administration, and the railway authorities concerned. The last event of burning of the effigy of Ravana at the Dhobi Ghat was supposed to be performed at 6.30 PM as per the given time to the VIP Guest Mrs. Navjot Kaur Sidhu wife of Navjot Singh Sidhu who is MLA from this affected area but was out to Bangalore at that time. She arrived 10 minutes late at 6.40PM gave a short speech and put fire to Ravna by 6.50 PM and rushed out for the next event since he had to cover 6 events; 3 of which had been covered so far. As the fire caught up the crackers burst ad VIP went off as is customary. The spectators had gathered within Dhobi Ghat (with walls around it), and on the railway line (since railway line was on a raised ground equalling the walls of Dhobi Ghat); in large numbers. As the onlookers both within the premises of the Dhobi Ghat and outside on the railway line watched the burning of the effigy, Howrah Express passed through but with a slow speed of 20KMPH giving time to the spectators on one line to move on to another line. As the spectators were adjust4ing after the passing of the first train the second train a DMU from Manawalla came at a speed of around 110 KMPH (as can be seen in the video) and mowed down all those at the railway's line. Within seconds, over 100 came under the wheels of the speeding train out of which later around 60 were declared dead; around fifty injured (40 seriously) as per state Government reports. The police were quick in arranging the evacuation of the dead and injured to the nearest Hospital, maximum being to Guru Nanak Hospital. The Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh was then at the Delhi Airport waiting for a flight to Tel Aviv where he had sent a delegation earlier and had a meeting with the President of Israel on 23 Oct. On getting the information of the disaster, he canceled/ postponed the trip and established contact with his colleagues and bureaucrats. A team consisting of Minister of Health Mr Brahm Mohindra and Minister Salaria was immediately ordered to move to Amritsar to take control of the situation since the CM himself was advised not to go there as it would have attracted the administration to his care rather than to that of the patients (as per the statement of the CM). He ordered state morning on 20 October and a package of Rs. 5 lakh to the families of the dead and Rs. 50,000/ to the injured. The expenses of the Treatment of the injured were to be borne by the state. All the injured appeared to have been well cared for and treated. The Governor, the Home Secretary, and DGP too rushed to Amritsar as per the reports. Even Mrs. Sidhu attended the patients and helped operate some since the Police Commissioner asked her not to come back to Dhobi Ghat where the situation had become volatile (as per her and IG Srivastava's statement). President and PM also sent the messages of condolences. The Railway Minister Piyush Goel was in the USA hence asked his Minister of State to move to Amritsar. He met various railway functionaries and gave a clean chit to the railway employees including the gateman and the driver. Meanwhile, media and political leaders had become active and a blaming war (not game) started. The BJP/Akali Dal who had the government at the center blamed the organizers and specially targeted Mrs. Sidhu and sloganeering and stone pelting started against the administration and Sidhus. Mrs. Sidhu gave statements explaining her position. When Mr. Sidhu returned next day, he appeared in the press and gave statement passing the entire blame on the railways. He mentioned that since the mowing down was done by the fast-moving DMU without light and without whistling to give warning to the public on railway line under the watch of the Gateman and Control of Amritsar Controller, railways are responsible for the disaster. This has not happened in the Dhobi Ghat area where the event was permitted but on the railway line which was under the jurisdictions of the central government (railways). A proper inquiry was needed to be done by the railways.

With this blame war and the evidence available including the circumstantial evidence, it is clear that administration, organizers and the railways’ all are involved and a judicial inquiry by a serving high court judge can only bring out the facts to the light. Any independent inquiry by the state or the center may be considered as partial. Questions need to be answered include as to: ‘Why was the event organized so close to the railway line?’; ‘Was the railway informed of the event?’; ‘Why was an LeD display towards the railway line?’; ‘Why did the people stand on railway line knowing full well that this was the busiest route. Were they duly warned and any attempt was done by the police to remove them from there’; ‘Why did the railway gateman give the signal to the train to proceed when the people standing on line was within his site?’ ‘Why did the driver of the local train move at such a fast speed while moving within the city limits?’ etc.

Meanwhile, the treatment of the injured must be upgraded and the settlement of the families of the dead must be speedily organized. The compensation of Rs 5 lakh by the state and 2 lakh by the center may not be sufficient. At least one member from the families of the dead should get some worthwhile job to support the bereaved family.

A poem on the tragedy is given below:

Amritsar Tragedy.

The joy of festivity turned into heart piercing wail.

When a speedy train left blood and flesh trail.

The gateman gave the signal for the train to pass

Even watching a group of men standing on the rail

All those suffered who did not really realize,

‘That they were trespassers by the official treatise’.

The killers declared that they have done no fault.

To face stones pelting by halting the train was unwise.

Mowing down was natural with speed hundred ten,

It is the responsibility of the organizers then.

The blame game started with media’s highlight,

Finding political targets, they attacked their den.

The truth was buried in this howl and shout.

The injured suffered meanwhile in this bout,

It can be considered as a real national shame.

When killers escape and all rules they flout.



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