Odisha train accident: Mamata questions official death toll
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday questioned the death figures given by the Ministry of Railways in the triple train crash in Odishas Balasore, stating that 61 people from her state were dead and 182 were still missing.
Banerjee also asked questions on whether Vande Bharat engines were up to the mark.
“If from one state, 182 are missing and 61 are confirmed dead, then where would the figures stand?” she asked, addressing a press conference at the state secretariat, Nabanna.
The Odisha government on Sunday revised the triple train accidents death toll to 275 from 288, and put the number of injuries at 1,175.
According to Odisha Chief Secretary P K Jena, some bodies were counted twice. “After detailed verification and a report by Balasore District Collector, the final toll has been fixed at 275,” he said.
Jena said 88 bodies have been identified so far and 78 handed over to their families, while 187 were yet to be identified.
Three trains Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express, Bengaluru-Howrah super fast and a goods train were involved in Fridays accident, now being described as one of Indias worst train accidents.
“If bodies are to be extricated from steel coaches with the help of sharp weapons, it makes the identification process complex and time-consuming at times. DNA tests may be required in such instances to establish identity,” Banerjee, the former Railway minister, said.
Stating that Duronto Express trains introduced during her tenure as the railway minister were “pushed out of priority”, Banerjee asked whether the Vande Bharat Express trains engines were up to the mark.
“The name Vande Bharat is good. I like it. But you have seen what happened that day when a tree branch fell on it… I dont have any idea where its engines were made,” she said, about a mishap the Puri-Howrah Vande Bharat suffered on the second day after its inauguration.
Accusing the BJP, which is now in power at the Centre, of “playing a dirty game” over the toll in previous rail accidents, Banerjee said, “Those having moral responsibility for the Balasore tragedy are now trying to shift the blame to me and former railway minister Nitish Kumar to malign us.” “We should not quarrel and argue, but instead of blaming me and former railway ministers Nitishji and Lalu Prasad ji, the BJP should first explain why the anti-collision device is not in place yet after all these years. Yesterday, the Railway minister was there during my visit to Balasore, I could have raised the issue, but I did not for courtesy,” Banerjee said.
Asserting that the BJP forced her to speak out despite this being a very sad situation, she alleged that the saffron camp is “spreading deliberate misinformation campaign about the high number of deaths in earlier train accidents”. “If you count the combined number of deaths in train accidents during my tenure as the railway minister, it would not be even 300. It should not have happened. But it was me who had first brought the idea of introducing modern technology like anti-collision devices and manning of all level crossings. I had put 400 unmanned level crossings under surveillance,” she claimed.
Accusing the BJP of spreading “all the bluff, fake news, paid news,” Banerjee said, “Kindly enlighten us, who was behind the Godhra train burning (in 2002). How many people had died?” She also claimed that the rail modernisation drive undertaken by her, when she was the railway minister, had helped reduce accidents earlier.
Continuing her tirade against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Banerjee said, “You have spent money for building stadiums in your name, you have raised the fare of travelling from one station to another. But you have given minimum attention to public safety and security issues. During my tenure, we formed 20 expert committees to look into several issues. What happened to these panels.” Asserting that many of those who died in the Balasore train crash were labourers, she said, “They are forced to look out for jobs because of your (Centre) policies. We are yet to get Rs 7,000 crore from the Centre (under the MGNREGA). But despite this, we have created 10 crore man days and managed to generate work for 45 lakh people.” The chief minister also claimed that her government has made arrangements to bring back passengers to their home state in Bengal.
“We have the infrastructure here to treat them. Our IAS officers are working round the clock to coordinate with the railway authorities and the Odisha government on this issue,” she said.
The CM said the government has allotted an ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh for the next of kin of each deceased, Rs 1 lakh for each of those who suffered serious injuries and Rs 25,000 for those receiving minor injuries. The Coromandel Express crashed into a stationary goods train, derailing most of its coaches at 7 pm on June 2.
A few coaches of Coromandel toppled over the last few coaches of the Bengaluru-Howrah Express which was passing by at the same time.
Investigators are looking into possible human error, signal failure and other possible causes behind the three-train crash.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Federal staff and is auto-published from a syndicated feed.)