The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Full house at theatre of grotesque

Rafiganj, Sept. 13: As the tracks reopened today after Monday night’s Rajdhani Express disaster, the first passenger train chugged past a site of 14 mangled coaches, personal belongings and ends of clothes and footwear scattered around.

No bodies were recovered from the vicinity of the bridge on the river Dhawa today and the official death toll stayed at 117. Eight of the 13 bodies kept at the medical college since yesterday were claimed by relatives and two others were “tentatively identified”. One of them could belong to Sushanta Chakraborty, the former CPM MP, those who have come from his Howrah home said.

The hospital, still holding three more unclaimed bodies — the source of an unbearable stench that sparked an agitation by those being forced to live on the campus — was desolate for the first time since Tuesday, but not the spot where the mishap had occurred.

Despite the railway authorities hurrying to lend a semblance of normality to the bridge and its neighbourhood by restarting the service — against protests by a section of engineers — hundreds of villagers from places as far as 50 km poured in to “catch a sight” of “the spot”.

Suresh Prasad had walked all of 40 km from his village Shivganj. So had Manju Devi from Doho with three-month-old daughter Munna in her arms. “Spot kahan hai (Where’s the spot)'” was the most frequently asked question around these parts, which have suddenly found a place on the map, however fleetingly.

If unlettered villagers were feeding on the grotesque at the site, maggots were swarming over the five bodies (two of them “tentatively” identified) that still lay at the hospital morgue.

The stench from the unclaimed bodies had sparked an agitation by nurses and other officials living on the campus yesterday. Hospital superintendent Shrikant Prasad Singh had petitioned the Gaya district magistrate to remove the bodies and the administration was making arrangements for a mass funeral when, one by one, the relatives of eight of the victims turned up.

“We have now postponed our plans for a mass funeral,” an official said. “Two other bodies, one (possibly) of the CPM leader and that of another person (‘Dalmiya’), have been more or less identified by their relatives and now we intend to keep the three other bodies for some more time,” he added.

Of the eight other bodies identified today, four belonged to a group of Bangladeshis who were going on a pilgrimage to Ajmer.

The decision to resume services was criticised by some engineers who said the authorities should not have rushed things.


“The bridge has not been repaired and the tracks, too, are not all right, as evident from the authorities’ decision to operate trains at a speed of 10 kmph,” one of them said, referring to the morning’s first run by a trolley, then by a double-engine train, then by a goods train and, finally, by a passenger train.

The district administration has picked up all the personal belongings that were in a recoverable state and stored them at the Rafiganj police station. Aurangabad superintendent of police S.K. Jha said claimants could contact either his or the district magistrate’s office with “sufficient evidence”.

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