Jnaneswari Express train derailment
The Jnaneswari Express derailment occurred on 28 May 2010 in the West Midnapore district of West Bengal, India. It was disputed as to whether sabotage or a bomb caused damage on the railway track, which in turn led to a train's derailment before an oncoming goods train hit the loose carriages resulting in the deaths of at least 141 passengers.
A few weeks before the attack the Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh said Naxal attacks were affecting the profitability of the railways: "We have lost Rs 5 billion because of Naxal bandhs and obstructions. There has been adverse impact on operations, freight loading and passenger traffic on a localised basis during bandh calls and other threats in vulnerable areas."
The derailment occurred 90 minutes after a Communist Party of India (Maoist) four-day bandh in the area began. It was termed a "black week" and security was put on high alert.
The state police chief stated that Maoist Naxalites claimed responsibility for removing a 46-centimetre (18 in) length of railway track. At 01:30 local time, a train with 13 carriages passing over the missing track derailed. The Howrah – Kurla Lokmanya Tilak Jnaneswari Super Deluxe Express was travelling from Howrah to Mumbai. The derailed train was then struck by a goods train travelling in the opposite direction. At least 141 people died and more than 180 people were injured. The missing track was between Khemasoli and Sardiha stations. A section of the rail track was found to be missing and fishplates were loosened, suggesting sabotage.
Initially there was uncertainty as to whether the attack was a result of a blast or due to derailment of the train. Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said a bomb blast was part of a "calculated attack" that caused the train to derail. She said "The driver of the train heard an explosion, so we are looking into that. We are aware that the Naxals have access to sophisticated bombs and improvised explosive devices."
Officially, 26 bodies were found, and a rescue team was working to find more bodies. Indian Air Force helicopters were pressed into service at the accident spot, and airlifted some of the injured passengers to hospitals. Taking initiative, the NCC instructed Col RS Bath, the NCC Group Commander, Kharagpur, to mobilise NCC cadets for the relief and rescue operations at the accident site. Despite the students being on the vacations, the NCC Group and the Units of the area, employing ingenious means of communications, mobilised 200 boy and girl cadets to carry out the rescue operations. In close coordination with the National Disaster Management Team, the NCC cadets indefatigably rendered their services in the rescue and relief operations over three days. The cadets were employed in the following tasks:
- (a) Crowd management
- (b) Blood donation
- (c) Organising temporary camp
- (d) Organising community langer (kitchen) and distribution of food and water in conjunction with the locals.
- (e) Helping the Disaster Management Team with their specialized equipment for the rescue operations.
- (f) Evacuation of the injured people.
- (g) Nursing the patients and helping the hospitals.
- (h) Removal and guarding of the baggage recovered from the train.
A medical train was sent to the location. At least one person trapped in the train appeared to be alive.
During the course of the investigation into the derailment, Samir Mahato, a member of the Sidhu Kanhu Gana Militia—the militant wing of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) --, was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of police from Jhargram in West Midnapore district. His was the second arrest made by the CID in the case after the prime accused Khagen Mahato., The case was transferred to CBI, the CBI took help of T D Dogra of AIIMS New Delhi and CFSL New Delhi to establish the identification of deceased persons by DNA Profiling in addition to CFSL Kolkatta.
After the West Bengal police said that the Jnaneswari Express accident "appears to be the work of Maoists," the PCPA claimed responsibility.
The police found posters from the Maoist-affiliated Police Santras Birodhi Janosadharan Committee (People's Committee against Police Atrocities) (PCPA) claiming responsibility at the site. A PCPA spokesperson, however, denied involvement in the incident, instead blaming the CPI(M) of "hatching a plot" to malign the Railway Minister and of attempting to distance the PCPA from the people. After some days another suspect Bapi Mahato, another suspect of this tragedy was arrested from Adityapur of Saraikela District in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his grief over the loss of lives. The government of India said it would give Rs. 500,000 to the kin of the dead and offer jobs to family members. The government of West Bengal announced that they would bear the cost of treatment for the victims.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee condemned the attack, although he was seen as unusually cautious in blaming Maoists for triggering the derailment. He also appeared to deny there was a blast, in contrast to his cabinet colleague Mamata Banerjee. "I am deeply saddened by the tragedy. It appears to be a case of sabotage where a portion of the track was removed. Whether explosives were used is not yet clear." Indian Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee rushed to the location of the accident where she said she was aware of the Maoist-declared black days and security had been increased.
West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya condemned the attack. He said "All our efforts have to be directed against this menace; on how the State and the country can be liberated from this threat...We will sensitise our forces and we will counter this Maoist threat. We knew they would be observing this week, but we had no idea that they would be committing this dastardly crime." He also warned that "they are coming from all sides."
A day after the attack the Bhattacharya and Banerjee got into a war of words that was linked to the upcoming municipal elections in the province. It was alleged that Banerjee is backing pro-Maoist groups like the PCPA in her political battle against Bhattacharya's CPI-M.
Trinamool Congress is trying to mobilise all the anti-Left forces including the Maoists. Not just in Lalgarh but also in Nandigram and Singur where they have launched movements. In both the places, they took the help of the Maoists." Nirupam Sen, Industries Minister in the West Bengal government.
"What were the people and tribals of Lalgarh looking for? They were simply looking for dignity, security and relief from abject poverty. And what did they get in return? They got the lathis and bullets as they were terrorised by the CPI-M and the police." Derek O'Brien, TMC spokesperson.
Banerjee later called the incident a political conspiracy, while hinting at the involvement of elements of the ruling CPI (M) party.
A spokesperson for the CPI-Maoists, "Comrade Akaash," contacted the BBC and said the Naxals would investigate whether renegade factions may have been behind the attack. In regard to the Railways Ministry halting train traffic into Naxal affected areas during the night hours, Akaash said the Naxals would guarantee the safety and security of rail traffic into those regions.
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