Patna/New Delhi, Aug 19: At least 37 Hindu pilgrims were killed and over a dozen injured Monday when a speeding train mowed them down at a railway station in Bihar’s Khagaria district. Angry pilgrims and locals lynched the train driver and set ablaze six bogies, prompting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appeal for calm.
The Rajya Rani Express ran over the pilgrims while they were crossing the rail track at the Dhamara railway station on the Saharsa-Mansi route of the East Central Railway (ECR).
Additional Director General of Police S.K. Bhardwaj confirmed the death of 37 Hindu pilgrims (Kanwariyas).
The train was travelling from Saharsa to Patna when the accident took place between 8 a.m. and 8.30 a.m. The train does not have a scheduled stop at Dhamara station.
“The accident took place when pilgrims were trying to cross the railway track after alighting from a local train,” said a police official.
The deaths incensed pilgrims and locals who set ablaze six bogies, including one AC coach, of the train which had stopped after the incident and attacked railway officials.
The two train drivers were mercilessly beaten up, leaving one dead and the other battling for his life.
Some railway officials were also held hostage.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed shock and deep sorrow at the loss of lives and appealed for calm.
He “also appealed for calm in the area so that the relief and rescue operations can be carried out without any hindrance”, said a statement issued in Delhi.
Chief Public Relations Officer of ECR Amitabh Prabhakar told IANS over telephone from the ECR headquarters at Hajipur near Patna: “The rescue team along with railway officials has reached the accident site.”
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced a compensation of Rs.2 lakh to the kin of each of the victims and described it as “the rarest of the rare incident”.
“I have spoken to the union railway minister and requested him to provide highest possible compensation to them,” he told mediapersons here.
In the month of Shravan (July-August), thousands of Hindu pilgrims visit a temple in Deoghar, Jharkhand, where they offer holy water from the Ganga river to Lord Shiva at an ancient temple.
Kanwariya pilgrims in Bihar collect water from the Ganga in Sultanganj in Bhagalpur district. They carry this holy water in “kanwars” – a single pole, usually of bamboo, with two water pots dangling from opposite ends – and cover 105 km on foot to reach the temple.
After offering the holy water, they return to their native places in vehicles or trains.
Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, who represents Sasaram Lok Sabha constituency in Bihar, too mourned the deaths. She urged that all necessary steps should be taken to provide immediate relief at the accident spot.