Disasters & Accidents

288 Confirmed dead in rail disaster, Indian official says

New Delhi, Jun 6 (EFE).- Last week’s railway disaster in the eastern Indian state of Odisha resulted in 288 fatalities, authorities said Tuesday.

The state’s chief secretary, Pradeep Jena, said on Twitter that “after an elaborate verification of records & taking information from all concerned & after conducting 2 rounds of combing of the tracks & nearby areas,” the office of the Balasore district magistrate “has confirmed 288 deaths.”

He added that “205 bodies have been identified & handed over. 83 yet to be identified.”

Jena cited a death toll of 288 last Saturday, but officials revised the figure downward to 275 a day later, pointing to an ostensible double-counting of some bodies amid the chaos and confusion that prevailed in the hours following India’s worst rail accident of the 21st century.

Last Friday evening, a passenger train ploughed into a freight train parked on a segment of track in Balasore and some of the coaches ended up on another track, where they were struck by a second passenger train traveling in the opposite direction.

Earlier Tuesday, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) began a probe of the disaster even though the government claimed to have identified the cause of the accident and the people responsible.

A CBI team is on the ground in Balasore, according to the Press Trust of India.

Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said Sunday that he had asked for a parallel investigation after the ministry concluded that the cause of the accident was a problem with the automatic signaling system.

The Indian National Congress (INC), the party that has governed India for 54 years since independence and is now the main opposition to the ruling BJP, criticized the decision to involve the CBI.

Ordering the CBI to investigate is nothing but “headlines management” and an attempt to distract attention before the Commission on Railway Safety has published its conclusions, Congress lawmaker Jairam Ramesh said.

“The CBI is meant to investigate crimes, not railway accidents. The CBI, or any other law enforcement agency, cannot fix accountability for technical, institutional and political failures. In addition, they lack the technical expertise in railway safety, signaling, and maintenance practices,” INC president Mallikarjun Kharge said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In 1999, the collision of two trains in the state of West Bengal left 288 dead, while 800 people were killed in 1981 when a train derailed while crossing a bridge and fell into a river in the northern state of Bihar.

India’s railway network is the fourth largest in the world after the United States, Russia and China, and transports roughly 23 million passengers a day. EFE ia-mvg/sc/dr

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