The Punjab and Railway Police on Saturday questioned the driver of a train that crushed at least 61 people to death here while they were watching the burning of a Ravana effigy from a railway track.
Punjab Police officials said that the DMU (diesel multiple unit) driver had been detained at the Ludhiana railway station and was being questioned regarding the incident that took place on Friday night at the Jora Phatak near Dhobi Ghat within Amritsar city.
Sources said that the driver claimed that he was given green signal and all clear and had no idea that hundreds of people were standing on the tracks when the train crossed the area. No action has so far been initiated against the organisers, who are leaders of the ruling Congress in Punjab, of the Dusshera event. Police sources said that the organisers had gone underground.
Railway officials were also gathering information from the railway linemen posted along the tracks near the Jora Phatak area who failed to inform the DMU driver regarding the presence of over 700 people on the railway tracks who were watching the burning of the Ravan and other effigies during Dusshera celebrations.
As the Ravan and other effigies went up in flames with the deafening noise of bursting fire crackers, the people standing on the live railway tracks did not realise that a speeding train was approaching. Nearly 150 people, most of who were watching the burning of effigies or were recording the event on their mobile phones, were mowed down by the train.
The disaster was over in 10-15 seconds, people at the spot said. Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha visited the accident spot late on Friday night. Sinha said that the incident was being probed and that the tragedy was unfortunate.
Railway authorities in Amritsar and in New Delhi defended themselves saying that they had not been informed about the Dusshera event at that spot and the local police did not prevent the people from coming on the live and busy railway tracks.
Meanwhile, senior political figures including Punjab Governor VP Singh Badnore and Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, visited the injured in hospitals in Amritsar on Saturday. Badnore arrived early on Saturday and met the injured at the Guru Nanak Dev government hospital.
"This is a big tragedy. The doctors here are doing a good job in trying to save people," Badnore, who rushed from Chandigarh, told the media. State Education Minister and Amritsar legislator O.P. Soni was also present during the Governor's visit.
Sidhu arrived at the hospital on Saturday morning accompanied by hordes of security personnel and officials.
Sidhu, whose wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu was the chief guest at the Dusshera festival function where the tragedy took place, refused to talk to the media. Sidhu met the injured and their families in the hospital and assured all possible help from the government and the local administration.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is also expected to arrive later on Saturday and meet the families of victims. Amarinder had on Friday night announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to those who died in the incident.