| Madhubani SP Mohammad Rahman addresses a news meet on Wednesday after the arrest of Santosh Kumar. Picture by Ravi Bhaskar |
The railway gateman whose alleged negligence claimed 19 lives at a crossing near Semra station in East Champaran district on Monday was arrested from Madhubani district on Wednesday.
Santosh Kumar (23) was absconding since the accident but said he fled because he feared he would get lynched. Also, he said he had not received any directions from his higher-up to close the gate at the crossing. The Muzaffarpur-Gorakhpur Rapti Ganga Express rammed into an auto-rickshaw that entered the crossing on seeing the gate open.
East Champaran superintendent of police (SP) Sudhir Kumar said, acting on a tip-off, a police team raided Santosh’s in-law’s house in Basopatti, 120km east of Motihari and 190km northeast of Patna, and arrested Santosh. Additional SP Pramod Kumar Mandal led the raiding team.
The SP said Santosh was being taken to Motihari, the district headquarters of East Champaran. A case was earlier lodged against him at the Sugauli police station. A resident of Sakri Bhawanipur village under Sakri police station in Madhubani, Santosh said he had fled apprehending a threat to his life, Madhubani SP Mohammad Rahman said.
But additional SP Mandal said the Motihari police team, consisting of Chhatauni police station house officer (SHO) Subodh Kumar, intercepted Santosh while he was trying to sneak into Nepal.
Santosh told investigators he was appointed on compassionate grounds and was still under training. He denied he was listening to music and had mistakenly left the crossing’s gate open. “I didn’t receive any directive from bada babu (read station master) to close the gate,” he said.
His arrest has come as a relief for railway officials, who hope Santosh would provide important leads. Samastipur railway divisional manager Arun Malik said: “We will approach the police to allow our investigating team to quiz him. His statement will help the probe team reach a logical conclusion.”
The railways constituted a four-member team, on Tuesday, to probe the accident. Authorities said Kaushik Mukhopadhaya, the chief safety officer of East Central Railways, was heading the probe team. Chief signaling engineer (north) Ram Bechan, chief engineer (track maintenance), V.K. Sahu and chief traffic planning manager Neeraj Ambastha would assist Mukhopadhyay.
Asked about the timeframe for submission of inquiry report, ECR deputy general manager Ajit Kumar Jha said: “No timeframe has been set. The committee will try to submit its report to the commissioner of railway safety at the earliest. The report will pinpoint whose lapses led to the tragedy, which left 10 men and nine women dead.”