71 dead as Maoists sabotage tracks, train derails in West Bengal (Intro Roundup)

Jhargram (West Bengal), May 28 (IANS) At least 71 people were killed and about 200 injured early Friday when a Mumbai-bound passenger train derailed, after a part of the track was sabotaged, and was rammed by a goods train in a Maoist bastion of West Bengal.

‘Sixty-five bodies have been recovered. There may be many more,’ West Bengal Home Secretary Samar Ghosh said in Kolkata, nearly 155 km from the accident site near Jhargram town in West Midnapore district. It was the third attack by Maoists on trains this year.

Several hours after the accident that took place around 1.30 a.m., scores of passengers remained trapped in the mangled 13 bogies that derailed just a few hours after the Howrah-Kurla Gyaneshwari Super Deluxe Express left Kolkata at 10.55 p.m.

Over 200 passengers were injured, many seriously, as a goods train coming from the opposite direction rammed the derailed train. A 1.5-ft piece of the track was reported to be missing which caused the derailment, Ghosh said.

West Bengal Director General of Police Bhupinder Singh said the train fell off the track as a portion of the tracks as well as fish plates were found removed near Jhargram. He added that police found two posters attributed to the Maoist-backed People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) apparently claiming responsibility for the sabotage.

Shrieks of the injured passengers tore through the night as passengers scrambled to get out of the mangled coaches and looked for family members and other survivors. Till late in the day, villagers helped in the rescue operations to extricate mutilated bodies from the coaches.

‘We heard a loud, screeching noise of the train braking and the coaches derailing,’ said a survivor.

As children appeared shocked into silence, adult survivors were screaming for their missing kin at the accident site.

‘They are all dead,’ is all that a middle-aged man could say. He had boarded the train with his family members just hours before the accident.

‘Mera bachche ka inteqal ho gaya (my child is no more),’ wailed a young mother, sitting at the platform of the Sardiha station nearby.

This is the ninth major strike and third attack on trains by the leftist rebels since February this year who claim to be fighting for the poor and landless tribals in east and central India.

Confusion persisted about the reason for the train tragedy.

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said unambiguously from the accident site that ‘it is a bomb blast case’.

‘It appears to be a case of sabotage where a portion of the railway track was removed. Whether explosives were used is not yet clear,’ Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in a statement.

However, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said it was too early to tell.

For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the issue was a larger one of how to tackle Maoist violence. BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said it was time the country debated whether it was a central or state subject or a law and order problem.

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, who gave an update on the relief and resuce operations to the prime minister, declared compensation of Rs.500,000 to each of the families of those killed and a job for one member of the family.

Ironically, the accident took place despite the railways sounding 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 security operation against them.

The Indian Air Force and other security agencies launched a massive rescue operation and helicopters and medical team pressed into service at the accident site.