Kanchanjunga accident: Passenger denies complaint claim

Complaint lodged by GRP against pilot of goods train that rammed into Kanchanjunga Express cites passenger blaming deceased pilot

Locals carry the body of railway staff Shankar Mohan Das, who died in the accident (photo: PTI)
Locals carry the body of railway staff Shankar Mohan Das, who died in the accident (photo: PTI)

A.J. Prabal

On Tuesday, news agency ANI quoted GRP (Government Railway Police) sources to claim that Chaitali Majumdar — a passenger on the ill-fated Kanchanjunga Express which collided with a goods train on Monday resulting in 11 dead and at least 35 injured so far — had submitted a police complaint blaming the deceased pilot of the goods train for over-speeding, ignoring signals, and ramming the express train from behind.

In a video statement given to Tamal Saha of Newsthetruth.com, however, Majumdar denied having lodged any such complaint. “Inside the train, how would I know what caused the accident?” she wondered, and claimed that Railway and GRP officials had obtained her signature on a blank sheet of paper after speaking to her in hospital and noting her personal details.

In the video statement, shared by fact checker Md Zubair, Majumdar says she was travelling in coach S6 and was herself injured in the accident. She was helped by others to get out of the train and taken to the Railway Hospital for medical attention.

“I called my family and they came and took me home from the hospital. In the hospital some, RPF (Railway Protection Force) or GRP personnel came and took down my name, address etc… a few more officials came in the evening around 8.30, inquired after my condition, and recorded a video of what I said. Then they gave me a white paper where only my name and address were written and asked me to sign and write the date… Again at around 10.30 pm, some police officers came and asked for my name and address.”

She learned about the complaint ostensibly filed by her from a TV channel which called her for more details. “…First, it is impossible for me to know what hit the train while I was inside it…four men carried me out of the train and that's when I noticed that another train had hit our train from behind. But I knew nothing for sure. Then my family members came and took me; later in the evening, I found out that a goods train had collided with the Kanchanjunga Express.”

A shocked Majumdar wonders how she could have filed an FIR against anyone. “I don't know anyone, how and why will I file an FIR?" This, apart from the fact that there is no legal validity of an FIR against a deceased person.

Even as chief commissioner of railway safety (CCRS) Janak Kumar Garg reached the site and commenced the investigation into the circumstances that led to the collision of the goods train with the Agartala-Sealdah Kanchanjunga Express near Rangapani station in West Bengal's New Jalpaiguri, the bizarre complaint that the passenger was seemingly tricked into lodging raises disturbing questions about a cover-up.

Could the Railways be at fault? Media reports suggest a large number of vacancies for Railway staff entrusted with railway safety have not been filled for years. The All India Loco Running Staff Association had also claimed last year that training and exposure was not being given to loco pilots to deal with automatic signals. In a petition, AILRSA branch secretary S.S. Thakur had said loco pilots were being forced to work the automatic signalling system without any training and attaining the required experience and competence.

That the automatic signals were not operational on the route over a stretch of 14 km on the day of the accident, is now widely known. Nor was the indigenous anti-collision 'kavach' system available on the route.

Railway guidelines say if automatic signals fail, loco pilots should proceed at a speed not exceeding 15 kmph when visibility is good and 10 kmph where visibility is poor, slow down and stop to ensure a safe distance from the train ahead, besides looking out for obstructions. They should also be prepared to stop at short notice and apply emergency brakes.

The question is, why the rules were not followed by the goods train. On Monday, the Railway Board had said the goods train driver was "over-speeding", while responding to reports that the driver was given a written authority called TA 912 by the station master of Ranipatra, authorising him to cross all red signals.

The driver of the Kanchanjunga Express adhered to the norms to be followed during a defect in the automatic signalling system, stopped at all red signals for one minute, and proceeded at 10 kmph, but the goods train driver "disregarded" the norms and hit the stationary passenger train from behind, the board said.

However, the Indian Railway Loco Runningmen Organisation (IRLRO) had questioned this statement, with the organisation's working president Sanjay Pandhi saying, "It is incorrect on the Railway Board’s part to say that the driver has to stop the train at a red signal for one minute and proceed with restricted speed after getting TA 912.

"Once a driver gets TA 912, he can proceed with whatever speed because the authority letter suggests that the line in the section is clear. The document said the loco pilot of the goods train was authorised to cross red signals because they were defective. The authority letter doesn't mention any speed restriction."

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