The government on Sunday suspended four Northern Railway officials and sent its General Manager on leave after authorities admitted to negligence that may have led to the derailment of the Kalinga Utkal Express train in Uttar Pradesh which claimed 22 lives.
In an action that indicated that the government was determined to check recurring rail disasters in India, the Divisional Rail Manager, Delhi, and Railway Board Member (Engineering) were also asked to proceed on leave.
The action, which came nearly 24 hours after the tragedy, was taken based on prima facie evidence, a Railway Ministry statement said.
Northern Railway Spokesperson Neeraj Sharma told IANS that the suspended officials included Khatauli Junior Engineer Pradeep Kumar, Muzaffarnagar Senior Section Engineer Inder Jeet Singh, Assistant Engineer(Meerut-Delhi Division) Rohit Kumar and Senior Divisional Engineer (Delhi) R.K. Verma.
Those asked to go on leave were Northern Railway General Manager R.R. Kulshrestha, Divisional Rail Manager R.N. Singh and Railway Board Member A.K. Mittal. Besides, Chief Track Engineer of Northern Railway Alok Ansal was transferred.
Earlier, as the authorities began probing the exact cause of the train disaster, a criminal complaint was lodged against unknown people for causing deaths by negligence.
Mohd Jamshed from the Railway Board told the media in New Delhi that lapses in maintenance work being carried out on the track could have caused the accident involving the speeding train at Khatauli in Muzaffarnagar district.
"We did a site inspection. Some track maintenance equipment used for repairs were found at the accident site (apparently left behind by workers)," Jamshed said.
He said the railways were probing the disaster from all angles and a case had been registered for "causing damage or destruction of railway properties, for mischief, for death by negligence, for causing grievous hurt, injuring lives by overlooking safety".
The official said authorities would look into possible sabotage and whether "all precautions were taken" while the repair work was on.
At Khatauli, angry locals accused the railways of gross negligence. According to them, workers repairing the tracks left mid-way because of heavy rains, leaving equipment on the tracks.
To worsen the situation, the local railway station manager claimed he had no idea of the work being carried out on the tracks. In the process, the train driver was not alerted to the danger.
The Kalinga Utkal Express was on its way from Puri in Odisha to Haridwar in Uttarakhand when 14 coaches derailed at Khatauli. The accident was so severe that some of the derailed coaches mounted on others.
Senior Superintendent of Police Anant Deo told IANS that 22 people had died: 20 in Muzaffarnagar district and one each in hospitals in Ghaziabad and Meerut where they had been taken by their families. All but two of them were identified.
Over 150 injured were being treated in Muzaffarnagar and Meerut.
A day later, dazed survivors recounted the horrific disaster, saying the death toll would have been more but for the timely help rendered by residents of Khatauli, some 40 km from Muzaffarnagar town.
Virtually everyone credited the locals with rescuing dozens of trapped passengers from the mangled coaches of the train. Many survived because the locals rushed them to hospitals, much before officials mounted a rescue operation.
Meanwhile, an unverified telephonic conversation apparently between two railway employees circulated on social media also hinted that negligence was the reason of the accident.
"Neither the line, on which the work was under way, was fixed nor they had put any flag or a signboard (as a stop signal). The accident occurred due to negligence," one of the employees says in the clip whose authenticity was being checked.
The railways said its staff was working to clear the derailed coaches and repair the damaged tracks as all trains on the route were diverted.
A Home Department official said 90 ambulances and four teams of the National Disaster Response Force did rescue work through the night but many relatives of the dead and injured complained of lack of ambulances.