A woman injured in the Rajya Rani Express accident crosses a bridge with help, in Khagaria district on Tuesday. Picture by Mohan Mahato
Dhamara Ghat (Khagaria), Aug. 20: The relatives of the 28 people who were crushed to death by a speeding express train on Monday had to take the bodies away on their shoulders or in boats — the only means of conveyance in a region that remains mostly inundated during monsoon.
The Rajya Rani Express, on its way from Saharsa to Patna, had mowed down the 28 people and injured a dozen others at Dhamara Ghat station in Khagaria district, 181km east of the state capital, around 8.40am on Monday. “It was by 12.30am today that the last of the relatives came, walking on foot to identify and claim the bodies,” a rescue official told The Telegraph.
The travails of the people are a grim reminder of the extreme backwardness of the region. For all its claims of giving the people of the state better infrastructure, the Nitish Kumar regime has failed to reach this remote area: neither does it have roads nor bridges.
Many of those injured were lying on makeshift cots, bleeding and writhing in pain for more than five hours as there was no way they could have been taken to hospitals at the district headquarters of Saharsa or Khagaria. The area has no road that can be used by ambulances. The railway authorities have so far not furnished specific details of the people who died on way to hospital or lay unattended for hours.
“We went to the Dhamara Ghat railway station running to rescue the injured people. My family members, villagers and I lifted two injured persons and physically carried them to Koparia railway station, which is connected to a road, eight kilometres away. From Koparia, the injured people were taken to Saharsa hospital by the rescue team,” said Ranju Devi (55), an elected representative of Bagalia village.
Ranju and other villagers said the death toll would have been lower had Dhamara Ghat and its surrounding villages been connected by roads.
Other than the trains which run on the Saharsa-Mansi-Patna section, boats and human shoulders are the only means of conveyance in the river belt of the Kosi between Khagaria and Saharsa districts. Most of the people in the region are poor cattle-raisers and farmers. Local residents said the public health centres simply did not exist because the doctors do not come during the rainy season.
Rajesh Mahato, a resident of Kachaut village, said: “During the elections, the leaders descend in hordes, promising roads and bridges. But we do not see these leaders once the elections are over. We travel along the railway tracks putting our lives on the line for we have no other facilities. There are places which do not even have boats.”
The villagers say the situation worsens during the monsoon when the farmlands are flooded. “We virtually live on an island for at least four to five months every year,” said Badri Ojha, 45, a resident of Dhamara Ghat.
“Chief minister Nitish Kumar came here talking about roads and development. But you can see that there are no roads and other civic facilities here. I saw my father and grandfather living the way we are living. Nothing has changed,” he added.
The Telegraph visited the site of the tragedy after walking 8km from Koparia, and crossing three dilapidated bridges over the river Kosi. Several men, women and children were seen walking through the railway tracks. “The tracks are the best available route. I know it is dangerous, as I can be hit by a running train. There are water-filled trenches on either side of the tracks,” said Uma Devi, an elderly lady of about 55. “I fear travelling in boats. They capsize off and on.”
The residents are angry. “We are left entirely to God’s mercy. We don’t expect help from the government. We drove Lalu Prasad out, now we will do the same to Nitish,” said Badri Ojha. “We will beat anyone who comes to us with promises.”