Amritsar: A bend in the railway line, a hurtling train and the deafening sound of crackers as flames consumed Ravana’s effigy resulted in the loss of over 60 lives in Choura Bazar near the Joda Phatak area of Amritsar.

The authorities are trying hard to find fault with someone to give some sort of closure to the tragedy.

Public ire and outrage fell first on the driver of the DMU that ran over the crowd. But, was the driver at fault?

According to Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani, he was not.

Lohani argued that the track was a main line on which trains were permitted to go full blast. Moreover, the people who had gathered on the line were actually “trespassing” according to the the law.

“The tragedy took place on the main line between two manned crossings. People were watching Ravana dahan (burning Ravana’s effigy) on Dussehra. It had grown dark, as it was around 8.40-8.45 pm. A DMU train came on the line. There is also a curve there. People, it seems, did not pay attention that a train was coming as the Ravana (effigy) started burning around the same time. The sound and light of it perhaps distracted the people,” Lohani said.

Categorically rejecting any culpability of the Railways in the tragedy, Lohani defended the driver of the train.

“It would be wrong to say that the Railways was in any way responsible for this tragedy. It is a main line and trains run full speed on it. It is not some place that people can congregate and watch a programme. There was no speed restriction,” Lohani added.

Explaining the tragedy, Lohani said, “There were two level crossings and they were closed at the time. They are manned level crossings, interlocked crossings. The Railways had not been informed of the celebrations on the track. This is trespassing; people must be more alert and should not loiter on tracks. People need to cross tracks at level crossings, but if they gather on railway tracks, a tragedy can strike at any time.”

Meanwhile, the train driver told the police that he had received a green signal and had no idea that hundreds of people were on the track.

Railways officials were inquiring as to how the linemen manning the tracks near the Joda Phatak area had failed to inform the train driver about the gathering.

Fereozpur’s divisional railway manager (DRM) Vivek Kumar too asserted that the Railways was not to blame. “The locopilot had taken the required steps. This accident took place due to trespassing on railway tracks.”

Union minister of state for Railways, Manoj Sinha, visited the accident spot on Friday night. “People should restrain from organising such events near tracks in future. Drivers are given specific instructions on where to slow down. There was a curve, driver couldn't have seen it. About what should we order an inquiry? Trains travel in speed only,” Sinha said.

The CPRO of Northern Railways also said that while there had been a massive loss of life in the accident, it did not appear that the loco driver was at fault in the incident. The Amritsar-Howrah Mail had passed the same spot two minutes before the accident occurred.”