The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rafiganj residents saved the day
- Rail top brass failed to mount rescue drive, claims minister who was on the spot

The state government on Thursday criticised the railways for “mishandling” the rescue operations in Monday’s Rajdhani Express mishap at Rafiganj, in Bihar.

Minister of state for civil defence Srikumar Mukherjee, who had rushed to the accident site on Tuesday, returned to the city on Thursday, in a train that brought back the dead and the injured. Describing the railways’ approach to the situation at the accident site as “nonsense”, Mukherjee said: “The railways failed miserably in tackling the situation. The day after the mishap, it was not clear who was in charge of things. It appeared that the senior railway officers present did not have any role to play in the rescue operations.”

According to him, when the special train reached Gaya around 8.30 pm on Tuesday, there was “total chaos” at the station. “Even 24 hours after the mishap, there was no information on the dead and injured. Railway personnel, who had the passengers’ list and other documents, could not be located as they were inside a locked room and hence, beyond the reach of harassed family members. Moreover, they had not made adequate arrangements for coffins,” Mukherjee added.

The minister said he would submit a detailed report to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Friday. “I am also worried about the fate of former CPM parliamentarian Susanta Chakraborty, who was on coach AS-4,” he said. The search party could not locate Chakraborty, a resident of Howrah, even after repeated attempts. The CPM leadership on Thursday asked party MLA Lagandeo Singh to rush to Gaya and locate Chakraborty. Singh reportedly left for Gaya on Thursday, accompanied by Chakraborty’s family.

Mukherjee left Gaya around 6 pm on Wednesday with 46 injured passengers. Those with grievous injuries were put in air-conditioned compartments, while those with less-serious injuries were accommodated in second class. One of the injured, Jayanta Chatterjee, an employee of the Rajdhani Express’ pantry car, died while the Calcutta-bound train was crossing Dhanbad.

“Jayanta was injured in his neck and stomach. In fact, he was not in a position to be moved from the Gaya hospital. But he wanted to come home in Seoraphuli as he was feeling homesick,” Mukherjee said. Jayanta was put on saline and oxygen and was even given blood transfusions on the train, but he died early on Thursday.

Recounting his experience on the accident spot, Mukherjee said the villagers were “immensely helpful” and did their best to treat the injured. He also praised a doctor couple, Feroz Khan and Anjum, for their untiring efforts to treat the injured. Khan is a doctor at the Gaya Railway Hospital, while his wife is a private practitioner. “Khan kept encouraging the injured passengers while he was treating them and his wife put aside her own practice to assist her husband. We could see her rushing around on her two-wheeler, between the hospital and the railway station, with medicines and bandages,” he said.

Mukherjee also lauded the efforts of a reporter at the Gaya hospital, who offered his mobile phone to the injured so that they could call home.

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