Chapra/New Delhi, Jun 25 (PTI): Four passengers were killed and eight injured when an Assam-bound Rajdhani Express derailed at a station near Chapra in Bihar early Wednesday, setting off a blame-game in which the Railways blamed Maoist extremists, former railway minister Lalu Yadav blamed the railways and the home minister refused to jump to conclusions.
Maoists ultras had called a two-day bandh in old Tirhut division, which consists of Saran, Gopalganj and Siwan districts, starting Tuesday midnight.
Railway officials said they suspected sabotage by Maoists, as an explosion had derailed a goods train on tracks 60km away.
“Prima facie, it appears to be a case of sabotage. There was a blast on the track, which could have caused the derailment,” Railway Board Chairman Arunendra Kumar told PTI in Delhi.
But railway minister Sadananda Gowda was not so sure about a Maoist hand. ”As far as the Rajdhani derailment is concerned, investigations are on,” he said.
East Central Railway’s chief spokesman, Arvind Kumar Rajak, said Maoists are suspected to be behind the incident. Some of the coaches were hurled as far as 700 feet away from the track under the impact of the derailment.
The railways said 12 coaches of the Dibrugarh-bound Rajdhani Express were derailed at around 0200 hours when the train was passing through the station, about 75km from Patna. Five of the coaches overturned and seven were derailed.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said it was too early to blame the Maoists.
“I have spoken directly to rail officials on the spot. The Prime Minister has been informed regarding all developments. Even he agrees that it is too early to blame the Naxals. Let us wait for further report on the incident,” he told reporters.
Singh, however, said the derailment of a goods train at Motihari, about 60km away from the site of Rajdhani Express accident, could be the handiwork of Maoists.
Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi also ruled out the involvement of Maoists and said the incident appears to be a result of “error” on the part of Railways.
Manjhi questioned why a pilot engine was not run ahead of Rajdhani Express in line with the standard practice in the Maoist-hit region.
”The incident appears to be a result of error on the part of Railways,” he said.
The state’s new police chief, P.K. Thakur, who joined as director general on Tuesday, also ruled out Maoist involvement.
Former Railway Minister and RJD chief Lalu Prasad blamed railway officials for the mishap involving the Dibrugarh-bound Rajdhani Express that left four passengers dead.
”I have been the Railway Minister and I know that a pilot engine is run 30 minutes ahead of Rajdhani Express trains. This is done to check whether the line is clear and tracks are safe. It seems this was not done in this case and the accident happened,” Prasad told PTI over telephone.
”This is a clear cut case of negligence by railway officials. I want to know why the pilot engine was not run on the tracks before the Rajdhani Express was scheduled to cross the area,” added Prasad.
Railway Minister Gowda has announced ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the family of each of the deceased, Rs 1 lakh for the grievously injured passengers and Rs 20,000 for those with minor injuries
Gowda and Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha have rushed to the site along with Railway Board Member Traffic, D.P. Pandey and Member Mechanical, Alok Johri.
Gowda said in the case of the goods train derailment, it is a prima facie case of sabotage.
Saran District Magistrate Kundan Kumar told PTI that the accident seems be due to operational problems and not triggered by Maoists.
He told reporters on the spot that another train Kaviguru Express had crossed the spot safely 15 minutes before Rajdhani Express.
Moreover, the train derailed not in a secluded place but in a town which witnesses regular railway traffic. Hence any attempt of planting bombs or other activities of the Maoists could have been easily spotted, he said.
Kumar also said the casualty would have been higher if it had been an act of sabotage.
Saran Superintendent of Police Sudhir Kumar Singh also ruled out Maoist hand in the incident.