Jhargram (West Bengal), May 28 (IANS) At least 65 people were killed and over 200 injured early Friday when a Mumbai-bound passenger train derailed and was hit by a speeding goods train in West Bengal, officials said, suspecting sabotage by Maoist guerrillas.
‘Sixty-five bodies have been recovered. There may be many more,’ West Bengal Home Secretary Samar Ghosh told NDTV news channel from Kolkata.
The figure is likely to go up as hundreds of passengers are still trapped in the engine and 13 bogies that derailed after the accident took place at around 1.30 a.m near the Maoist stronghold of Jhargram, in West Midnapore district, about 155 km from the West Bengal capital.
Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said unambiguously from the accident site that ‘it is a bomb blast case’. Banerjee said that police and district administration told her that they have found evidences that the track was blasted.
‘I have got the message from them,’ the minister told reporters.
Ghosh added that over 200 passengers of the Mumbai-bound Howrah-Kurla Gyaneshwari Super Deluxe Express train were injured after some of its compartments were derailed and hit by a goods train coming in the opposite direction.
The official said that 1.5 ft of the railway track was reported to be missing which caused the derailment.
In Delhi, a railway official didn’t rule out the sabotage by the rebels, but said deaths were mainly caused by the collision after the derailment of the passenger train.
‘We suspect it is a case of sabotage. The driver (of the passenger train) has reported to have heard a huge sound. There was definite tinkering with the tracks,’ member Railway Board Vivek Sahai told reporters.
Sahai said a light engine and three trains had passed on the track earlier. ‘It is unfortunate that Gyaneshwar Express got hit.’
He said the railways had sounded a red alert in five states — Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal — in the wake of the black week being observed by Maoist guerrillas since Thursday midnight to protest a massive security operation against them.
In Kolkata, Director General of Police Bhupinder Singh told IANS that the train ran off the track as a portion of the tracks as well as fish plates were found to removed near Jhargram.
‘There could have been a blast. But the train derailed primarily because of the missing fishplates and rail tracks,’ Singh said.
As soon as the engine and coaches fell on the adjoining track, shrieks of injured passengers tore through the night as they feverishly tried to escape from the mangled coaches.
Shocked train passengers stumbled out of the bogies and frantically looked for their near ones.
Villagers and railway officials frantically tried to rescue passengers still trapped in the fallen bogies.
‘We heard a loud, screeching noise of the train braking and the coaches derailing,’ said a survivor.
A man who rushed to help the injured said: ‘Initially, no security staff in the train helped. Only public came to the help of the passengers. We rushed to try and save people.’
No one has claimed responsibility for the sabotage but officials say they have recovered posters of Maoists and the Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), a group of tribal agitators having close links with Leftist rebels in West Midnapore.
The Indian Air Force and other security agencies have launched a massive rescue operation and helicopters and medical team pressed into service at the accident site, IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Mahesh Upasni told IANS.
The injured passengers were taken to the nearest major town Kharagpur and elsewhere in West Midnapore district. Many of those wounded are believed to be in a serious condition.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced Rs.200,000 as compensation for those killed and Rs.50,000 for the seriously injured. Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee also declared compensation of Rs.500,000 to each of the families of those killed and a job for one member of the family.