15 on train roof crushed to death by overbridge

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Old 02-Feb-2011
15 on train roof crushed to death by overbridge

At least 15 people were killed and more than 50 critically injured when over a thousand aspirants for police jobs, sitting on the rooftops of the speeding Himgiri Express, were squashed by a low overbridge near Shahjahanpur, 130km from Lucknow. Sources, however, put the toll at 20, though there was no official confirmation on this.

All those traveling on the rooftops were returning from a recruitment rally of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) in Bareilly that was cancelled at the last moment, setting off day-long arson.

Over one lakh people from 11 states turned up for the job mela which had on offer 416 posts for tradesmen of constable rank to work as washermen, barbers, water carriers and sanitation staff. But the rally was rescheduled at the last minute, and all hell broke lose with an angry mob running amok. Public and private property worth hundreds of crores was destroyed.

Following the train mishap, a mob torched the AC coach that was next to the second class compartment on which the victims were perched at the time of the accident. A relief train was rushed to the site with additional railway police but at least two coaches of the train were reduced to ashes by then.

The accident took place at the Hathaurda railway overbridge near Mohammedabad crossing in Shahjahanpur. There was hardly a three-feet gap between the coach roof and the bottom of the overbridge, an eyewitness told TOI. By the time people saw the bridge approaching, it was too late, said Dilip Kumar of Chakrata in Himchal Pradesh, who had gone to the recruitment rally. He was headed for Lucknow on board Himgiri Express, which was headed to Howrah from Jammu.

Another eyewitness said that despite the mishap, the train driver did not stop. The train finally stopped some 5km from the spot, said Ranveer Singh of Naubasta in Kanpur. The entire roof of the coach was red with blood.

The state government and railways were quick to deflect blame, saying they had no information about the event or the expected turnout. The Uttar Pradesh government squarely held the ITBP responsible for the violence on the ground that they did not inform the Bareilly district administration about the rally. Additonal DG (railway police) A K Jain said railways too had no information. ``It was only late on Monday night that the government railway police (GRP) Bareilly noticed an unusually heavy crowd at the railway station and an alert was sounded,`` Jain said. But by the time the GRP could plan, it was already too late.

However, Union home minister P Chidambaram said in New Delhi that ITBP had informed the state police in advance but the state police provided only minimal forces for the recruitment drive. ``I am told that about 50,000 people turned up finally. Buses were burnt and then the ADGP sent reinforcement,`` he said, adding the state police was obliged to provide security to any kind of recruitment camp and such a programme was not held without the knowledge of the state police.

``These were done with the full knowledge and consent of state police. After all we are recruiting boys from that state also,`` Chidambaram said.

An official said: ``The ITBP had written to the district magistrate about the drive on January 17. Subsequently, the DM had written to the Bareilly range DIG of Uttar Pradesh Police and chief medical officer for adequate arrangement. The letter was also marked to the local SP (traffic) for necessary preparation in advance.``

ITBP had conducted asimilar drive in 2008 when 21,000 aspirants had turned up for the tests. This information was also shared with the DM so that the district administration can prepare well in advance anticipating huge crowd, the official added.

In the daylong violence and arson, at least nine government roadways buses were torched and 50 small shops plundered on Badaun road in Bareilly. In separate incidents reported from different pockets of the district, at least 30 private cars were damaged by the stone-pelting mob.

The mob first turned violent near Ram Ganga railway crossing and uprooted a portion of the tracks while another section of the agitated mob tried to set ablaze a petrol pump nearby. The mob also targeted the residential complex of the local television centre and some other government offices.

Railway traffic on the Bareilly-Delhi-Lucknow route came to a halt from noon onwards and could be partially restored by late evening on Tuesday. Northern Railway plans to run special trains from Roza to Howrah for the Himgiri Express passengers and from Bareilly to Patna and also from Lucknow to Varanasi in order to clear the rush.

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