The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Battlelines drawn over train tragedy Nitish-Rabri divide hampers rescue

Rafiganj, Sept. 12: The tardy rescue operation at the site of the Rajdhani Express mishap, in which over a hundred people have died, was further hampered by the feud between railway minister Nitish Kumar and the Rabri Devi government.

Relief workers alleged that they did not receive any cooperation from the state government agencies. “Neither are there any vehicles, nor are the state agencies active at the site. There is only talk and a swirl of rhetoric,” said Robin Pal, a member of the railway rescue team. “There is a protracted transport strike, it is difficult for us to hire vehicles to transport the victims. The voluntary agencies had come with their own (vehicles) and helped, but where is the government will to pitch in at the darkest hour of the mishap victims'” asked R. Dube, a doctor working with the passengers.

The non-cooperation and lack of coordination was evident from the first day of rescue. No vehicles were to be found to transport medics to the site on a day when some of the most seriously injured passengers were being pulled out of the smashed coaches. There were not enough shrouds to cover the 56 mutilated corpses that lay by the Dhawa river. Relief workers finally had to drag out blankets from the train to cover them.

Relatives who had reached to claim the bodies were in for a long and agonising wait. It took inordinately long for the bodies to be taken to the local hospital for post-mortem and released. But the scene improved slightly later. “The only time I approached the state government was yesterday. I found the bodies piling up on the ground at the accident site and the relatives stranded there. They had reached to get the bodies back for early cremation. I asked for quick post-mortem and inquest there itself. That was done,” said K.K. Saxena, divisional railway manager, Mughal Sarai.

“Since it is a railway accident, it is our responsibility to rescue the passengers. Basic help has been received from the state government, but whether it was adequate, I cannot say,” Saxena added. The administration did not strengthen the approach roads to the accident site over which salvage equipment continue to come in and bodies taken out. No sand or bricks were used to make the bumpy, muddy road from the site to Rafiganj better.

“The state government is not cooperating to that extent. They are there to provide some basic facilities, but things like a better approach road would have helped facilitate relief and rescue,” rail officials were heard saying.

“We saw local leaders visiting the site with hordes of associates. They joined the gawkers and came close to the coaches, hampering relief work. But these political persons would not pitch in,” said Mahesh Sharma, member of a local voluntary organisation, Seva, which had deployed 12 members to assist the rescue teams. “I was amazed to see the insipid leaders’ ability to derive perverse pleasure by watching on when the people trapped inside needed help.”

After a mishap of such magnitude, no Bihar minister, MLA or senior bureaucrat could be seen at site. Laloo Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi had visited on Tuesday in the full glare of the media.

Apart from police officers, the only government employees who visited the site were Aurangabad district magistrate S. Siddharth and a deputy. That too, when they were asked to send a report on the disaster by the Union home ministry, complained the rescue workers. But Siddharth said that even though it was a railway matter, “whatever they have asked for, we have given. I myself have been at the site since Tuesday”.

Six senior police officers descended on the scene after the FIRs had been lodged at the Rafiganj police station. Superintendent of police, Aurangabad, S.K. Jha said: “We have given police personnel as they (the railway) asked for. But the railway, too, has their securitymen and railway police. Why can’t they be deployed'”

The army personnel left by this afternoon. “They have finished the work we had called them to do. The remaining work will be finished by the railway,” Saxena said.

Tired relief workers on the last leg of rescue efforts wished more had been done to pull out the trapped passengers soon after the accident. Only local villagers had extended a helping hand to them within an hour of the accident, saving about 50 lives. Senior officials connected with the rescue said faster intervention could have saved a few more lives and blamed the political divide for the tardy effort.

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