Amritsar: Two days after a train mowed down 61 people watching a Ravan effigy being burnt on October 19 in Amritsar, locals on Sunday came down hard on the statement of the driver in which he claimed that he had not stopped the train because of stone pelting from the crowd at the accident spot.
“I was at the spot. Leave alone stopping, the train did not even slow down. It seemed as if the driver wanted to mow us down. The train passed us in a matter of seconds.
“Is it logically possible for us to pelt stones at the train when so many people were dead and injured around us? Is it possible for us to get our bearings after such an incident and pelt stones at a speeding train? The driver is lying,” Shailender Singh Shally, Councillor, Ward Number 46, Amritsar, said.
The driver, in his statement, has said that said that he applied “emergency brakes” as he saw the crowd on the tracks but “still some people were caught in the path of the train”. He also said that he continuously honked to get people off the tracks.
The driver said people started throwing stones at the train when it was “almost on the verge of stopping” and so, keeping in mind the safety of his passengers, he continued towards Amritsar and informed officials there about the accident.
Onlookers rubbished the driver’s claims and said the train did not slow down anywhere near the spot.
“He did not even slow down, let alone almost stopping. The train was in such speed that the accident happened in split seconds. There are hundreds of videos that show how fast the train went. There was no chance of us reacting, leave alone pelt stones. All we could hear around us was people screaming and crying,” Paramjeet Singh, another onlooker, said.
The maximum speed of the train, which was a Diesel Electrical Multiple Unit (DEMU) is 96 kmph, once brakes are applied, this kind of train stops completely in about 300 metres if empty, and in 600 metres if full, officials said.
The last recorded speed of the train, according to Divisional Railway Manager (Ferozpur) Vivek Kumar, was 68kmph.
“As the train passed, I heard people screaming and shouting. There was no stone pelting. I don’t understand why the driver would make up such a thing. Will people who are seeing their loved ones lying in pools of blood leave them and pick up stones to hit the train?
“Anyway, the speed of the train was such that even if people wanted to pelt stones, by the time they collected them, the train would have disappeared from sight. He is lying,” Ajay Goenka, who was present at the spot, said.
Local police too corroborated the claims of the eyewitnesses and said that not just the train was travelling at a high speed, there were no reports of stone pelting at the site of the incident on October 19.
“As far as I know, there has been no stone pelting at the spot of the accident when the train passed,” Sukhminder Singh, SHO of Mohkampura police station under whose jurisdiction the area falls, told PTI.
Senior Railway officials were not available for comment on the matter officially.
The incident led to widespread anger among the locals who attempted to block railway route leading to clashes with the police.
Meanwhile, a 19-year-old man injured in Friday’s train tragedy succumbed to his wounds on Sunday, taking the death toll to 62.
The opposition, led by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), has blamed the Congress for the incident, accusing its leaders of negligence.
SAD has demanded immediate sacking of Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu. The party also demanded the registration of a murder case against his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who was the chief guest at the event, and the organisers of the Dussehra event.
The Congress leader refused to react to the SAD’s demands for his dismissal and lodging of an FIR against his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu over the Amritsar train accident on Dussehra. SAD had made the demands as Sidhu’s wife had allegedly presided over an “unauthorised” Dussehra event close to a railway track near Joda Phatak with a speeding train tearing through a crowd of spectators spilling over the track and mowing down nearly 60 of them.
Defending his wife, Navjot Singh Sidhu said, “I fought elections from here because of my wife. She has been working here. Last night, when accusations were being levelled against her, she was with patients. She called me up yesterday. She came to know of the incident before reaching home,” Sidhu had said on Saturday, adding the tragedy should not be given a “political colour”.