Amritsar: At least 61 people were killed and more than 70 injured in Amritsar on Friday after a speeding train coming from Jalandhar ran over the crowd watching fireworks during ‘Ravana dahan’ at a ground adjacent to the tracks. 

More than 300 people were standing along the railway track to watch the burning of Ravan's effigy as part of the Dussehra celebrations near the Joda Phatak area of Amritsar.

The effigy was just 100 metres away from the tracks. As the effigy was lit and the fireworks went off, a section of the crowd retreated towards the tracks as it was on a higher ground, where a large number of people were already standing to watch the celebrations. The people who were hit could not see or hear the train due to the exploding crackers.

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The driver of the train, who was detained by the Punjab Police, said he had received a green signal from the station and had no idea that hundreds of revellers were standing on the tracks. 

A witness said the train didn't even sound its whistle as it sped past the site, mowing down the revellers. An angry crowd shouted slogans against local legislator Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who was present as chief guest at the event. 

Sidhu said the celebrations take place in the area every year and railway authorities are alerted to run the trains at slow speeds.

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Reacting to the accident, railway board chairman Ashwani Lohani on Saturday said it would be wrong to say that the Railways is responsible for the tragic incident, adding that people need to be more alert.
Lohani told news agencies that the Railways administration was not informed about the Dussehra celebrations taking place near the main line. He said that the two manned level-crossing on the track, where the accident took place, was closed.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the accident which will submit its report in four weeks.

After meeting the families of the victims, Singh ordered an immediate release of Rs three crore to the Amritsar district collectorate for payment of compensation to the family of the deceased. Complying with the directions, the Chief Minister's Office has issued RTGS (Real Time Gross Settlement) instructions to the bank concerned. He said that the state government has announced Rs 5 lakh as compensation and will bear all medical expenses of the injured. 

Union minister of state for railways Manoj Sinha, who visited the accident spot late Friday night, said that the incident was being probed and that the tragedy was unfortunate.

Sources said no action has so far been initiated against the event organisers, who are leaders of the ruling Congress in Punjab. Police sources said that the organisers had gone "underground".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved ex-gratia of Rs. 2 lakh for the families of those killed in the Amritsar train tragedy. He also announced a compensation of Rs. 50,000 for the injured.

A former state government official says most of the casualties of the disaster were migrant workers.

R C Yadev, former chairman of Punjab state's Workers Welfare Board, said on Saturday that many of those killed and injured had left their families in neighbouring states to work in factories and shops in Punjab.

(With agency inputs)