The Bengal government has decided to request the Odisha government to carry out DNA tests on the next of kin of victims who remain unidentified in the aftermath of the triple-train accident in Balasore on Friday evening.
The Bengal government took the decision after reports from the districts suggested that around 120 passengers remained missing. Most of these passengers are believed to have been migrant workers, travelling with general tickets on the Coromandel Express.
Over 100 bodies are lying unidentified in a temporary morgue in Odisha, a source in Nabanna said.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee spoke of the need for DNA tests on bodies that are beyond identification because of severe mutilation. She said a DNA test was the last resort.
“Several bodies are beyond identification. So, we need to conduct DNA tests on these bodies. Otherwise, they (their families) will not get compensation from the railways,” Mamata told a news conference on Sunday.
The Bengal chief minister will visit Odisha again on Tuesday to meet the injured in hospitals.
“We have already shared the photographs of the unidentified bodies with officials of all the districts, and if the families find matches between any of the bodies and their missing members, we will request the Odisha government for a DNA test,” a senior state government official said.
Shanto Sheikh, a migrant worker from Kanakpur village in Muraroi, Birbhum, is one of many passengers of the accident-hit Coromandel Express who are missing. His family members said they had tried their best to locate Sheikh but in vain.
“Our relatives went to hospitals and morgues in Odisha but Shanto could not be traced.... We have repeatedly called the railway helpline number but they are asking for the ticket number (PNR number) and the number of the coach on which he was travelling. We don’t have such details as my brother was travelling with a general ticket,” said Beli Biwi, a cousin of the missing passenger.
Some relatives are facing problems in collecting bodies.
Harun Badsha, a 19-year-old migrant labourer from Omarpur, Murshidabad, was travelling on the Coromandel Express. “We saw his name on the list of those killed in the accident. But we are unable to get the body,” said Samirul Sheikh, uncle of Badsha.
The National Disaster Response Force has already wrapped up its search operations in Balasore, following which the death toll has been pegged at 275. Around 1,000 passengers suffered injuries.
Mamata said that till Monday, the death toll from Bengal was 90. She added that the state administration was doing its best to trace the missing passengers.
Birbhum district magistrate Bidhan Ray said three passengers from the district remained untraced till Monday and their next of kin would be sent to Odisha for a DNA test. “We are planning to send the next of kin of those three passengers who are still missing. We are waiting for approval to send them,” said the district magistrate.
A senior official in Calcutta said Bengal government officials posted in Odisha were in regular contact with their counterparts in Odisha. “If the DNA matches with a particular dead body, it would be handed over to them. The Odisha government will help us in this connection,” said another official.
Odisha chief secretary P.K. Jena said that preserving samples was part of standard operating procedures in case of such accidents. “Whether any state government approaches us for a DNA test or not, in case of such accidents, the standard practice is to preserve the DNA samples of those killed,” Jena told The Telegraph.
The Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, a platform working for migrant workers, demanded that the railways publish a list of passengers travelling with general tickets on the Coromandel Express as the train used to ferry thousands of such passengers.
“There is no list from the railways about those travelling with general tickets. We will write to the railways requesting them to prepare a database of those travelling with general tickets once they boarded the trains,” said Samirul Islam, president of Bangla Sanskriti Mancha.
Additional reporting by Alamgir Hossain