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Amritsar train accident: 61 dead as speeding train runs over crowd at Dussehra celebration

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Amritsar, Oct 19: Tragedy struck at a Dussehra celebration in Amritsar on Friday when a speeding train ran over a festive crowd that spilled on to the tracks while watching the customary burning of a giant Ravana effigy. At least 61 people were killed and 74 injured in the accident, according to a senior government official. Railway authorities took pictures of the train and also questioned the driver regarding the incident that has killed over 50 people. It is learnt that the driver has told the authorities that he was not able to see the crowd on the rail tracks from a distance.

Punjab: Several feared dead as a train runs into burning Ravan effigy near Amritsar

The train was coming from Jalandhar to Amritsar. At least 300 people were at the spot watching 'Ravana dahan', sources told PTI. The rescue operation is getting hampered as the authorities have not arranged any floodlights to search the bodies and injured who were thrown by the speeding trains. Video camera lights and mobile phones are being used to search for bodies.

Amritsar sub-divisional magistrate (I) Rajesh Sharma said 61 people were killed and at least 74 admitted to Amritsar hospital. Raveen Thukral, media advisor to chief minister Amarinder Singh, put the number of dead at 40, adding the toll could rise. The chief medical officer at Amritsar Civil hospital said doctors had treated at least 80 injured after the accident.

Leaders across the political spectrum put out condolence messages and a state of mourning was declared in Punjab, where all government institutions will be shut on Saturday.

The state government also announced Rs 5 lakh compensation to the families of the dead, while the Centre announced an addition Rs 2 lakh for grieving families.

CPRO Northern Railways said,''13 trains shortly terminated, 5 trains short originated, 6 trains cancelled & 2 trains diverted following #Amritsar train accident.''

Congress MP from Amritsar Gurjeet Singh Aujla is at Civil Hospital, where the injured have been admitted. He said that a probe will be conducted into the incident. "Action will be taken against those found guilty, even if it is Navjot Kaur Sidhu," he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved a financial relief of Rs 2 lakh for the family of each deceased in the Amritsar train accident and Rs 50,000 for the injured, a spokesperson told PTI.

Indian Railways issus helpline numbers for Amritsar accident: Helpline telephone numbers at #Manawala station- Rly -73325, BSNL - 0183-2440024; Power Cabin ASR-Rly - 72820, BSNL - 0183-2402927; Vijay Sahota,SSE: 7986897301 and Vijay Patel, SSE: 7973657316.

Minister Of State Railways Manoj Sinha rushes to Amritsar.

Union minister Harsimran Kaur Badal said, "There are not enough words to mourn the Amritsar train tragedy that claims so many innocent lives. My deepest condolences to the families who lost their loved ones. The incident needs to be probed as it casts serious question on administration."

Speaking about the incident, Navjot Kaur Sidhu said,''The effigy of Ravan was burnt&I had just left the site when the incident happened. Priority is to get the injured treated. Dussehra celebrations are held there every year. People who are doing politics over this incident should be ashamed.''

Former cabinet minister and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia has demanded dismissal of Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu. He further sought the registeration of a case against those who allowed organising a Dussehra function along side a busy railway line.

Piyush Goyal says Railways conducting immediate relief operations. "Shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic train incident that occurred in Amritsar. My heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims. I pray for the injured to recover quickly. Railways is conducting immediate relief and rescue operations," Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said in a tweet.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that he spoke to the Punjab home secretary and the DGP over the train accident. "Centre is ready to provide all possible assistance to the state at this hour of grief," he said.

A number of disturbing images are surfacing.

Locals alleged that Navjot Kaur Sidhu, the wife of Punjab Cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, was the chief guest at the event. They further claimed that Navjot Kaur Sidhu left the venue as soon as the incident took place.

Another Eyewitness at Amritsar accident site said,"Congress had organised Dussehra celebrations here without permission. Navjot Singh Sidhu's wife was the chief guest at the celebrations and she continued to give a speech as people were struck down by the train."

Reacting to the incident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet, "Extremely saddened by the train accident in Amritsar. The tragedy is heart-wrenching. My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and I pray that the injured recover quickly. Have asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required."

Police Commissioner SS Srivastava said, "Exact death toll is not known but it is definitely more than 50-60. We are still evacuating people."

Punjab minister OP Soni said that death toll could be between 100-150. But no confirmed figure was given as the bodies are still scattered in the area.

An eyewitness said, a train travelling at a fast speed ran over several people during Dussehra celebrations, in Choura Bazar near Amritsar.

Police said, "There are more than 50 casualties. We are evacuating people, injured taken to the hospital", on accident in which several are feared dead in Choura Bazar near Amritsar

Another Eyewitness said, "The administration and the Dussehra committee are at fault, they should have raised an alarm when the train was approaching, they should have made sure that the train halts or slows down."

Meanwhile, Northern Railway spokesperson said that the railway gates were closed at the time of incident.

''At gate no. 27 b/w Amritsar & Manawala. As Dussehra celebration was taking place some incident had occurred& people started rushing towards closed gate number 27 while a DMU train number 74943 was passing the closed gate,'' said CPRO Northern Railway.

In a statement, Deepak Kumar, CPRO, Northern Railways, said that as per initial information, at gate number 27 between Amritsar and Mananwala, "as Dusshera celebration and Ravan Dahan were taking place, some incident had occurred and people started rushing towards closed gate number 27 while a DMU train number 74943 was passing the closed gate. The incidental information is being collected."

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweets: "Extremely sad news coming about a major train accident near Amritsar I appeal to all our volunteers in the area to help authorities in the relief work and provide whatever help we can in this moment of crisis".

The toll is expected to rise over 100. There were around 500-700 people at the spot. The moment the effigy of Ravan caught fire, crackers started flying around.

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