The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Death train leaves trail of anger

Rafiganj, Sept. 11: Bodies hauled out of the twisted wreckage of the Rajdhani Express were stretched out on the field covered by railway blankets. Forty-eight hours after Monday night’s accident, three coaches were still in the position they had been — mounted on top of one another.

Relatives of the victims gathered around railway minister Nitish Kumar’s deputy, who had arrived from Delhi. Minister of state A.K. Moorthy took a swig from a bottle of mineral water he had brought along and a rippling wave of anger swept through the crowd.

Many had not eaten nor had had a drop to drink since yesterday and something snapped inside at the sight of the sanitised bottle of water in the minister’s hand. They scuffled with the minister’s guards as Moorthy prepared to leave after issuing some instructions to rail officials.

Was it sabotage — the Naxalites issued a denial today — or was it purely an accident that till tonight had claimed at least 135 lives' Kumar wasn’t speaking about sabotage after a meeting this morning with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. The safety commissioner has already started an inquiry and it would not be correct to comment till the report is available, Kumar said.

“The Government of India is using the MCC (Maoist Communist Centre) as a scapegoat to hide its own failures,” Prakash, a spokesman for the Naxalite group, told The Telegraph.

The Bihar government and New Delhi have started a private battle of their own over whether it was sabotage or a railway lapse. Patna filed an FIR against the guard and driver of the train on the charge of committing mayhem on tracks.

The railways filed a criminal case against unknown persons, accusing them of engaging in sabotage that led to the tragedy.

As the railway ministry drew a curtain of silence over possible reasons for the accident, officials who visited the site said: “Rains had lashed the area a few days ago. At a few places, the rains had eroded the soil under the rails and the fishplates could have been displaced when the goods train (preceding the Rajdhani Express) had passed.”

M.S. Ekbote of the Railway Board said: “This monsoon, inspection was not undertaken on all bridges, only on a few bridges that are flood prone, where we station staff to monitor the rise and fall of rainwater. On other tracks, we undertake regular checks.” The check on the particular stretch of the track where the accident occurred was not carried out after the goods train travelled over it. “The staff were supposed to undertake the check but had not reached the site. However, that cannot be the reason (for the accident),” he said.

Kumar, however, had a bigger battle on his hands than scotching speculation. This morning’s brief outpouring of anger before his minister of state was a tame manifestation of the deep dissatisfaction of survivors and relatives of the dead and injured with the rescue and relief work.

“There is no food or drinking water, let alone shelter from the rain,” the crowd that had surrounded Moorthy had complained. Rescue operations had to be called off for three hours because of a heavy downpour.

“We have been staying here since Tuesday night without drinking water. You have not even arranged lights for us. How are we to spend the night'” Swarup Pathak, still searching for his uncle, told the minister.

Those who had found the bodies of their relatives had a different problem. Minati Paswan was stranded with the body of her husband Lakshman. “I don’t know what to do with it,” she said, adding that the authorities had abandoned her after the body was identified.

Sasanka Das said he was tired of the “parade” of dead bodies, lifting the cover of each and trying to make out if the bloated face belonged to his relative Niyati Maiti.

Although rescue workers had entered all compartments today, Lieutenant-Colonel V.K.S. Malik, leading the army’s rescue work, feared that the final toll would not be known until tomorrow morning when he expects the operation to be completed. So far, 135 bodies have been pulled out of the wreckage.

A.K. Datta, a pantry-car employee, was searching for his colleagues. “Railway Protection Force personnel are chasing us away, as if we are petty thieves looking for an opportunity to steal from the dead,” he said.

nRevised train schedule:  

Trains carrying survivors reached Calcutta and Delhi early this morning. “The return to Delhi was the longest journey of my life,” Shamil Hussein said.

In Calcutta, B.K. Pakrashi blurted out in anger: “I think one should move the human rights commission against the railways for the callous way they carried out the operation.”

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