New Delhi: A political war has broken out over the Dussehra train tragedy in Amritsar, in which 61 people were killed and several injured, with parties blaming each other and the Railways.

Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Sunil Jakhar came down heavily on the Railways.

“What is surprising is the haste in which Indian Railways has given a clean chit to the train driver without following the standard operating procedure. Within the night, the minister of state for railways (Manoj Sinha) and the railway board chairman, Ashwani Lohani, declared that the railways was not at fault," said Jakhar.

When a train accident takes place, the mishap is categorized and based on it an inquiry is ordered by the commissioner of rail safety, he said.

The Congress leader said that there were lapses on the part of the district administration and the public, but the railways too should inquire about its role in the mishap.

The railway officials are issuing contradictory statements raising several questions, Jakhar said.

“There are several lapses. The driver said he applied emergency breaks but the train neither stopped nor slowed down according to the videos surfacing and eyewitness testimony. The train driver claimed that people were pelting stones. The train’s speed was so high and the accident happened in fraction of seconds. By the time people gathered senses and noticed what had happened it was out of sight," said Jakhar.

The Congress leader alleged that either the railways was trying to hide something or it was a political conspiracy to pin the blame on cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who resigned as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of Parliament from Amritsar to join the Congress before the Punjab Assembly elections in January 2017 before the Punjab Assembly elections. Sidhu won the elections and became a Cabinet minister in the Punjab government.

“Let’s wait for a month and see what comes out from the Punjab government inquiry. However, even the railways should do a self-analysis to find out if they were at fault too," Jakhar said.

The Congress leader said trespassing has been going for years in that area. “How many people have been fined by railways for trespassing in that area?" he asked.

Aam Aadmi Party Punjab leader Sukhpal Khaira created controversy by stating in a video that the accident is a small incident. In the video, which has gone viral across the state, Khaira said the news of the Amritsar train accident has got a lot of attention. Media organizations and various people across the country have reached the spot either for coverage or to try to help. “However, I want to say that such small incidents happen in India every day in fact in Punjab only," Khaira is shown as saying in the video.

Following the allegations, the BJP and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) have decided to meet Punjab governor V.P. Singh Badnore on Tuesday under the leadership of former chief minister Prakash Singh Badal of the SAD.

The two parties are going to demand 1 crore compensation and a government job for a member of the families of those who lost their lives in the tragedy and 50 lakh for those injured. They will also demand a judicial inquiry into the incident by a sitting judge of the Punjab and Haryana high Court.

A senior Punjab BJP leader, however, said on condition of anonymity, “It was entirely the fault of the local district administration and local politicians who believe in verbal permissions. Had they followed the proper norms the tragedy could have been averted."

Politicians should not play a blame game over the deaths now, the BJP leader said.

On Sunday, former Punjab deputy chief minister and SAD president Sukhbir Badal had demanded Sidhu’s resignation, claiming that the minister’s wife was responsible for the tragedy as she was the chief guest.

The Punjab government is, meanwhile, undertaking the socio-economic profiling of the victims to facilitate their rehabilitation on priority. The profiling is being done to identify beneficiaries for jobs, pensions, and educational support.

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