Mamata Banerjee on Sunday said 62 persons from Bengal had died in Friday’s railway accident near Balasore in Odisha before apprehending that the number might rise as 182 others from the state were missing.
The Bengal chief minister also announced a slew of measures to help the victims and their families in distress.
“It is not that everyone (dead body) has been identified so far. We received confirmation on 62 deaths from our state. There are also 182 more from Bengal, who are still missing or not identified (among the deceased).... The number (of deaths) may rise,” Mamata said while addressing a news conference at her Kalighat residence in Calcutta on Sunday evening.
So far, the railways have confirmed the death of 275 people in the tragedy and a large number of them are yet to be identified. The number of confirmed deaths from Bengal was 31 till Saturday evening, which rose to 62 in less than 24 hours.
“We have already brought 206 severely injured persons to Bengal while 72 people from our state are still admitted to different hospitals in Odisha. Just think about the number of people from Bengal, who got affected in this accident,” the chief minister said.
A source said Mamata reeled off the statistics of victims from Bengal to stress how the crash had affected a large number of families in Bengal.
The chief minister also questioned the death figures given by the railway ministry. “I would request the railways to reveal the facts and figures accurately and not engage in suppressing numbers,” she said.
Mamata had questioned the veracity of the official death toll even on Saturday. While interacting with the media at the accident site, Mamata, with Union railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw standing next to her, had said the death toll was around 500.
Vaishnaw, however, tried to contest the claim and said the death toll, according to the Odisha government, was 238 (till then).
Mamata rebutted the minister’s claim and said the toll given by him was Friday night’s and it would go further.
“There were many people on the train (Coromandel Express), who were in unreserved compartments.... We have to find out who among them are still missing. Besides, we have shared the photographs of the unidentified dead bodies with all districts to find out whether there is anyone from our state. It is really difficult to identify as many of the bodies are beyond recognition,” Mamata said.
Then, the chief minister took care to explain how her government was trying to help the victims’ families and the injured. The move, a source said, was part of her attempt to distinguish her government from the Centre, whom she has accused of not doing enough for the victims.
To buttress her claim, Mamata recounted that she used to give one job to each of the accident victims’ families when she was the railway minister. Although the railways have announced an ex gratia of Rs 10 lakh for the victims’ families, no job announcements have been made as of now.
“We have brought around 700-800 people from Odisha and they are expected toreach their homes by today.... We are taking care of the families of all who died or were injured or even those who returned safely. Those who survived the accident are still in trauma and that’s why we have decided to stand by them,” she said.
The chief minister said that the government would give Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 1 lakh to those who suffered grievous injuries. Those who received minor injuries would get Rs 25,000 and the state government would take care of the treatment of all the injured people till their recovery.
Mamata made a political point and said those going to other states for work were doing so because of the Centre’s decision to stop the release of funds under the 100-day rural employment scheme.
“Those who were travelling to other states because of the absence of 100 days’ work will get Rs 10,000 at a time from the government. We would provide Rs 2,000 to each of them for the next three months along with rations,” she said.