Blast caused accident, probe ordered: Mamata Banerjee

Jhargram (West Bengal), May 28 (IANS) Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee Friday ordered a probe into the train accident in West Bengal that claimed 65 lives and said a bomb blast triggered by suspected Maoists caused the derailment of the coaches. She added that the army had been deployed for rescue operations.

Banerjee, who rushed to the accident spot, said rescue operations were being carried out by the railwaymen and the army at the spot between Sardiha and Khemasuly stations in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district.

‘Now they are trying to cut the other bogies for rescue operations,’ Banerjee told mediapersons.

‘We have ordered a high-powered investigation,’ she said after talking to departmental officials.

The engine and 13 coaches of the Mumbai-bound Howrah-kurla Gyaneshwari Express derailed and were hit by a speeding goods train near Jhargram, about 155 km from the state capital Kolkata, at 1.30 a.m. The train had left Howrah at 10.55 p.m.

On the cause of the tragedy, Banerjee said: ‘The derailment happened due to a bomb blast which blew up a portion of the tracks.’

The minister said the timing of the blast coincided with the arrival of the speeding freight train, which tore into three of the coaches.

‘It is the sheer timing. That’s the reason the tragedy took a turn for the worst,’ the railway minister said.

Describing the incident as ‘unfortunate’, she said: ‘The railways are being made soft targets. Innocent lives are being lost. No one should play with the lives of innocent people.’

Banerjee said she would also write to union Home Minister P. Chidambaram for a probe as ‘law and order is a state subject’.

Banerjee said the area was ‘sensitive’, referring to the Maoist-backed tribal body People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) virtually taking over the Bhubaneshwar Rajdhani Express at Banstala halt station last October.

When a scribe told her that railway passengers would now be scared to travel through the area, Banerjee said: ‘You tell me what we should do. We cannot stop running trains. Because it is the lifeline of the nation. We are carrying on patrolling. We are coordinating with the state administration’.

‘Law and order is a state subject. We don’t even have the power to file a First Information Report. We are running the trains because we have got clearance from the state government. If they tell us to stop plying trains, we will do so.’

‘Our first task is to rescue those who are trapped and arrange for their treatment.’

Asked if a pilot engine was run ahead of the express train as a safety measure with the Maoists observing a black week, Banerjee said: ‘Yes, a pilot engine was run’.

She added that the speed of trains in the rebel-infested areas have also been reduced as a precautionary measure.

The railways would arrange trains for passengers of Gyaneshwari Express who want to go to Mumbai. A special train was to come from nearby Kharagpur town.