Two days after a train ran over 61 people at the venue of a Dussehra event in Punjab’s Amritsar, local residents on Sunday vehemently rejected the driver’s statement that he had decided against stopping after the crowd began throwing stones.
Recounting the events that occurred on the night of October 19, local councillor Shailender Singh Shally claimed that the train did not even slow down — let alone stop. “It seemed as if the driver wanted to run over us. The train passed us in a matter of seconds. Would it have been logically possible for us to throw stones at the train when we were in such a state of shock, when there were so many people lying dead and injured around us? The driver is lying,” he said.
The incident caused an uproar in the state, with attempts by protesters to block the railway route giving rise to clashes with the police. Opposition parties blamed the ruling Congress, accusing its leaders of negligence.
The driver said in his statement that although he applied the “emergency brakes” as soon as he saw the crowd, he could not stop the train in time. He also claimed to have honked the engine horn repeatedly to make people move off the tracks.
“The people began throwing stones at the train when it was on the verge of stopping. As I had the safety of my passengers in mind, I continued towards Amritsar and informed the officials concerned about the accident,” he said in the statement.
Paramjeet Singh, another witness, also countered the driver’s claims. “There are hundreds of videos showing how fast the train went. We didn’t even get a chance to react. All we could hear was the sound of people screaming and crying,” he asserted.
The maximum speed of a train pulled by a diesel-powered locomotive is 96 kmph. Divisional Railway Manager (Ferozpur) Vivek Kumar said the last-recorded speed of the train was 68 kmph.
Police personnel who witnessed the tragedy agreed with local residents, maintaining that none of the claims made by the driver was true. “As far as I know, there was no stone throwing at the spot of the accident,” said Mohkampura police station officer Sukhminder Singh, adding that the train had not slowed down either.
Protesters hit the warpath on Saturday afternoon, after the event organiser — Saurabh Madan Mithu – went absconding along with his family soon after the incident. A group of people threw stones at their residence — breaking several windows. Police managed to bring the situation under control and place the neighbourhood under guard.
The opposition Shiromani Akali Dal also demanded the immediate sacking of Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, whose wife had attended the event, and a judicial probe into the circumstances that led to the accident.
Later, on Sunday morning, protesters clashed with the police at the scene of the tragedy after the latter tried removing a rail blockade that had halted train services. They were demanding action against the train driver and the event organisers, besides enhanced compensation from the government.