A bomb expert taking away the bag with an explosive device from platform 2 on Thursday. (Gopal Senapati)
Ranjit Biswas saw a man get off a local train at Howrah on Thursday afternoon, dump a blue bag near his snacks stall on a platform and walk away in a hurry.
Five hours later police detonated a bomb in the bag in an open space by the Hooghly, around 100m from the station.
“It was an improvised explosive device that could have claimed several lives and caused extensive damage at the station,” Dilip Mitra, the additional director-general of police (rail), later said.
A wire, originating from a match box, was attached to a metal pipe stuffed with shrapnel, nuts and bolts and a chemical. “The device could have exploded had anyone pulled the match box. Also in the bag was a jerrycan containing 5 litre petrol. Had the bomb exploded, the petrol would have caused a huge fireball,” Mitra said.
The cops, however, were clueless about the identity of the passenger who had dumped the bag.
It was around 12.45pm when the Down Burdwan local pulled into platform 2. “A man wearing a cream shirt got off the train, kept the bag on the platform and walked off. He seemed to be in a hurry but I thought he was going to the platform tap to freshen up,” recalled Biswas.
He became suspicious when the man failed to return even after all other passengers getting off that train had dispersed. A hawker, Indradev Shaw, too had spotted the bag lying unmanned for around 15 minutes.
Shaw, after a quick consultation with Biswas, alerted a Government Railway Police constable. The cop unzipped the bag and saw the petrol-filled jerrycan and the metal pipe.
A large police team then rushed to the platform and cordoned off the spot. The bag was wrapped in a red sheet and kept surrounded by sandbags.
A bomb disposal squad arrived with sniffer dogs. “From the dogs’ reaction it was apparent that the bag contained explosives. A mechanical test for the explosives, too, proved positive,” Mitra said.
Two trains had by then arrived on platform 3 and one on platform 1 before services were suspended.
Around 5.20pm, the cops took away the bag — covered by sand-filled sacks — on a trolley to a field near an RPF office. Bomb experts first took the petrol container a safe distance away and then detonated the device around 5.50pm.
“The tube contained shrapnel, nuts and bolts and a yellow chemical, which has been sent for test,” said Mitra.
Services on the three platforms resumed around 5.30pm.