Tuesday, December 5, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Mamata resigns, Vajpayee declines
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Dec 4 — The Railway Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, today submitted her resignation owning “moral responsibility” for Saturday’s train disaster in Punjab, but the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, declined to accept it.

Her resignation had been rejected, the Prime Minister said at the Navy Day function and added that she had been asked to continue in office.

Ms Banerjee, who tendered her resignation for the second time in the last two months—the first being over the increase in oil and gas prices on September 30—said in her letter to the Prime Minister that as head of the 1.6 million-strong railway family she could not avoid taking responsibility for the accident in which 43 persons were killed and 100 injured. She however, maintained that the minister was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the Railways.

“I reached the conclusion that in order to adequately respond to my conscience, I should resign from the office of the Railway Minister”, she said in the letter.

Ms Banerjee said that she had consistently done “soul searching” ever since the news of the accident reached her.

The minister put in her papers early in the morning. She however, attended the Lok Sabha and made a suo motu statement on the train accident.

Ms Banerjee’s resignation came 48 hours after the accident. She was charged with spending more time on the state politics in West Bengal rather than on attending to work relating to the aftermath of the disaster.

The Left parties were quick to make political capital of the accident with several leaders launching a blistering attack on the firebrand West Bengal leader.

Soon after she made the statement in the Lok Sabha, a CPI member, Mr Basudeb Acharia, demanded her resignation owning responsibility for the accident. Left members said the minister owed an explanation to the House over the inordinate delay in reaching the accident site. Instituting an inquiry did not mean much, they said.

The grand old man of West Bengal politics and an adversary of Ms Banerjee, Mr Jyoti Basu, was unsparing in his criticism of the Railway Minister. The former West Bengal Chief Minister said in Calcutta that Ms Banerjee was shirking her responsibility by resigning and her only intention was to gain political mileage.

Ms Banerjee, on her part, indicated that she was not averse to continuing in office saying she did not want to destabilise the National Democratic Alliance. “Till now, I have not spoken to the Prime Minister who is the captain of the NDA team. I have sent my resignation as a human being to fulfil my moral obligation”.

Speaking to newspersons after submitting her resignation, Ms Banerjee said the loss of lives had touched her heart.

“I don’t see the operational side of the Railways but only the administrative aspects. But as a human being, the accident had touched my heart” she said.

Even if one person dies in a rail mishap “I feel guilty”, she said, adding India had the world’s second largest rail network and there was need for more care and safety.

She said this was a crisis year for the Railways and the system needed to be revamped.

Denying that she had delayed in reaching the accident site spot on Saturday, she said as soon as she was informed about it in Midnapore, she tried to reach the spot. However, there was only one flight from Calcutta by which she travelled to Delhi and went to the accident site directly.

Ms Banerjee said she was not attending to West Bengal at the cost of her ministry and added that she went to the state only on weekends. “I spend the maximum time for the ministry. I have not gone abroad even to neighbouring Sri Lanka”, she said.

Refuting charges that the maintenance of railway tracks had been neglected, Ms Banerjee said this year Rs 2000 crore was allocated for this work, which was a 26 per cent increase.

She praised the people of Punjab for showing courage and humane feeling by coming to the rescue of the passengers after the accident. She said she was moved by this gesture and had therefore announced Rs 20 lakh for promoting development works in the villages concerned. The villagers had also urged for a flyover which she would consider sympathetically.

The photographs of the victims, most of whom were travelling in the general compartments, were being telecast on television for their identification by their family members, she said.

On the students travelling by the train to appear in an examination for job recruitment, the minister said she would examine if her ministry could help them.

For the first time, bodies of the accident victims were being embalmed so that these could be preserved for the families, she added.


Seven rly officials sent on leave

NEW DELHI, Dec 4 — The Railway Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, has asked seven senior officers in her department to proceed on leave forthwith to facilitate an “impartial and unbiased” enquiry into the Punjab train accident in which 43 persons were killed and 145 injured.

Making a suo motu statement in the Lok Sabha, Ms Banerjee said the officers who have been asked to proceed on leave include the Chief Engineer and Chief Track Engineer of Northern Railway, Chief Motive Power Engineer (running), Northern Railway, Divisional Railway Manager, Ambala, Senior Divisional Safety Officer, Ambala and senior Divisional Mechanical Engineer and Senior Divisional Engineer concerned.

In her statement, Ms Banerjee said in the collision of 3005-Up Howrah-Amritsar Mail with derailed wagons of Down Foodgrain Special in the Ambala division, 43 passengers had lost their lives so far and 145 suffered injuries, either grievous or simple.

Statutory inquiry into the accident had already been started by the Commissioner of Railway Safety, Northern circle, she said.

Further considering the gravity of the mishap, she proposed to hold a judicial inquiry by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court.

Stating that accidents of this nature always shook the confidence of the common people on the railway system, she said that she had a firm belief that accidents were normally due to some failures.

“Therefore, I would like to assure the House that based on the findings of the inquiry, exemplary action will be taken against those found responsible for this accident, howsoever highly placed they may be”, Ms Banerjee said.

She said that so far 20 bodies had been identified. Of the injured, one was in a critical condition. Fortyfour passengers were discharged after giving first aid.

Narrating the sequence, she said at around 5.35 a.m. on December 2, 10 minutes after passing Sadhoogarh, 15 wagons of the Foodgrains Special derailed, two of them moving to the upline.

Immediately thereafter, the Howrah-Amritsar Mail moving on the upline collided with the derailed wagons.

The minister announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 2 lakh to the families of those who have been killed in the accident and Rs 1 lakh each to those who were admitted in various hospitals.

She also announced the Railways would offer one job to a family member of those who lost their life in this accident.

Besides, compensation as admissible would be paid to them by the Railway Claims Tribunal of amounts varying from Rs 32,000 to Rs 4 lakh based on extent of incapacitation due to injuries. Rs 4 lakh compensation is paid in case of death.


Victims’ kin denied death certificates
From Our Correspondent

PATIALA, Dec 4 — Bereaved relatives of the Jeewanpura rail tragedy are being made to face harassment at the hands of the authorities with non-issuance of death certificates of the victims.

The relatives of the victims who have come from far off places are caught in a bind as the district administration here is claiming that it cannot issue the death certificates as the accident occurred in Fatehgarh Sahib district. A piquant situation has arisen as many bodies have been taken away by relatives without the certificate. Others are waiting to get the certificate .

The forms given to the relatives for claiming compensation amount carries three major requirements — death certificate, a copy of the ration card and the post mortem report. The non-availability of the death certificate will render the claim unfit. This can lead to non-payment by the authorities.

Mr Naveen Mahajan, a brick-kiln owner of Pathankot, is accompanying Sitaram here, whose four relatives were travelling in the train. They are Sanjeevan Ram, Mevalal, Radhelal and Surajpal. The former two survived minor injuries and were discharged yesterday. The latter two expired in the incident. Mr Mahajan revealed that in an accident at Khanna around two years ago, the death certificates were issued on the spot by the then SDM.

Mr Jasbir Singh Bir, Deputy Commissioner, Patiala, said, “We are tying up with the Deputy Commissioner of Fatehgarh Sahib and making arrangements to expedite the process of issuing death certificates. We have received the bodies only for the purpose of conducting postmortem.”

The Deputy Commissioner, Fatehgarh Sahib, was not available for comment. Meanwhile, at Rajindra Hospital, relatives of the deceased are arriving. Some were not even informed of the mishap and came after reading the names in the newspaper. Most of them belong to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

There is no arrangement for the outstation relatives in these cold nights. They have to spend the nights either in trucks or in the tents, if space is available. Under these circumstances most of the relatives prefer to cremate the dead bodies here itself or in nearby areas. However some have taken the bodies back to their places.

Of the 43 dead only 16 have been identified and taken back by the relatives. Fifteen passengers have been discharged after treatment. Twenty six injured victims were admitted in the hospital.

The list of the identified dead is: Hukam Singh of village and post office Khanpur, Gazipur (UP), Sajan Singh, Jhabalkhurad village, Amritsar, Ibrar Ahmed, Anishabad, Patna, Harish Chand, Charpurba Raibarelli, UP, Pankaj Kumar Sinha, Patna, Pankaj Kumar, Bhadia, Bhojpur, Bihar, Rama Shankar Yadav, Gathria, Balia, Bihar, Hardeep Singh, Guru Nanak Basti, Mansa.Back

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