Bolpur, Feb. 3: The notes were fake but not so the honesty of the finders who had handed the bagful of cash over to police.
One shining act of nobility had stood out amid the gloom of 62 deaths in the Sainthia train collision last July 19. Vegetable vendors Selim Khan and Abdul Salam had rushed to join the rescue efforts and stumbled on a leather bag, apparently containing Rs 1.5 lakh, by the tracks.
They did not hesitate for a moment before depositing it with the Government Railway Police (GRP), winning accolades and a little help in appreciation from chief ministerBuddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
On July 31, during a trip to Suri to monitor development projects, Bhattacharjee had met the two vegetable sellers at the Circuit House and arranged a Rs 50,000 bank loan for each of them at zero interest.
Today, the thirty-something vendors were left chagrined after learning from The Telegraph that the notes in the bag, brought to a State Bank branch by the GRP earlier in the day, had turned out to be counterfeit.
Selim felt his act had been wasted.
Im disappointed. I feel that my efforts have gone in vain, he said.
Few would agree with that. Some, though, may wonder why the Sainthia GRP didnt think of checking the cash while waiting the mandatory six months for claimants.
Selim said he had had no idea the notes were fake it was too chaotic anyway in those pre-dawn hours of July 19 after the Uttar Banga Express had rammed the Vananchal Express from behind at Birbhums Sainthia station, killing 62 and injuring 165.
The situation around us was chaotic. I saw the money and immediately zipped the bag close. Within 15 minutes, we had deposited it with the GRP, he said.
Whoever the fake notes belonged to was wise enough not to claim them. After the six months were over, the railway police approached a court and under its directions went to the bank, when a touch of farce was added to the tragedy.
The additional chief judicial magistrate in Rampurhat asked us to deposit the money into a government account. So, we went to the Suri branch of the State Bank, a GRP officer said.
The counterfeit cash was in Rs 500 notes. We repeatedly checked all the 300 notes but found all of them to be fake. We will inform our higher authorities, said Gajendranath Bhuniya, the branch manager.
The railway police took the money back to the Sainthia GRP station.
Selim said he had been sleeping in his thatched hut near the station when a loud crash woke him up in the early hours of July 19.
It was around 2am. I ran out. My neighbours too had woken up; everybody was running towards the station, he said.
He remembers the cries for help. It was pitch dark. We switched on our mobile phone lights and began looking for the injured inside the Vananchals coaches. We brought many people out and helped them into the ambulances that had arrived from Suri.
It was about 3am when he spotted the small bag. I unzipped it and realised it was stuffed full of cash. Abdul Salam was standing beside me and we told the others about the money. Everyone suggested we deposit it with the GRP.
Rabindranath Mukherjee, superintendent of GRP (Howrah), said a departmental inquiry had been started.
We will inquire whether procedure was followed in the seizure of the money, he said. Another criminal case will be started to find out the source of the fake notes. We will inform the court tomorrow.