BENGAL RAIL DISASTER INVESTIGATION: Rail zeroes in on drug theory – Glare on tea at previous station – CID again to the rescue ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY SANJAY MANDAL
WITH INPUTS FROM
THE MALDA CORRESPONDENT
Calcutta, July 20: Railway officials today claimed the two drivers of the Uttar Banga Express may have been drugged by a tea vendor, preventing them from acting to avert a collision with the Vananchal Express at Sainthia station yesterday.
Preliminary investigations have thrown up “evidence” that driver Madhab Chandra Dey and his assistant Nirmal Kumar Mandal had drunk tea during their previous, two-minute stopover at Gadadharpur station, 7.5km from Sainthia, senior officials said.
Whether the tea was spiked, though, appears to be conjecture at this point. Only a viscera report, which will take seven to 15 days to arrive, can establish drugging.
The drug theory was lent some credence, however, by the wife of Somnath Sengupta, the injured Uttar Banga guard.
“My husband had called me (from hospital) at 6.40pm yesterday. He said that when the train failed to slow down as it approached Sainthia yesterday, he had tried to speak to the drivers over the walkie-talkie. But one of them couldn’t speak at all while the other was groaning,” Sangeeta Sengupta told The Telegraph at her home in Malda.
Dey’s daughter Juthika Das, however, objected to railway officials’ endless conjectures surrounding the drivers and what she saw as their disparaging remarks, telling this newspaper that the family was feeling “insulted”.
Railway bosses had yesterday said there was “something wrong” with the drivers: they had sped along at 80-90kmph despite Sainthia being a scheduled stop, overshot the signal, eschewed the emergency brakes and not even tried to jump off to save themselves.
“All the information indicates sabotage,” a railway official said today, hinting at a political motive. “The drivers were drugged. Else, it would have to be a suicide pact between the duo. That’s absurd.”
However, if the drug theory turns out to be true, it will also open up an alternative possibility to sabotage — that the spiked tea was meant for passengers and reached the drivers by default.
Several gangs have been befriending and drugging train passengers in eastern India with spiked beverages and robbing them, and it’s possible that Dey and Mandal got their tea from one of these. These gangs operate across states and will be harder to catch than a local station vendor.
Pharmacology specialists said a person’s tea or soft drink could indeed be spiked with small amounts of certain drugs such as nitrazepam, which would not change the taste but put him to sleep in minutes, especially if his stomach was empty.
An alarmed railway board this morning issued a directive for drivers and guards, asking them not to buy or accept any beverages, not even tea or coffee, from any vendor or stranger while on duty.
The railways are also probing possible human error in operating the panel interlocking system at Sainthia.
“Once a train is put on a particular track, the (convergence/divergence) points behind it are set in such a way that if the next train flouts the signal, it will be diverted to another track. It seems the operator didn’t set the panels properly,” an official said.
Railway sources defended the Uttar Banga guard against criticism for not applying the guard’s brakes to stop the train.
“As a rule, we don’t encourage guards to apply full brakes. If the guard applies the brakes from the rear while the driver is running the train at full speed, the train can be snapped from the middle,” an official said. “The guard’s brakes are meant mainly as a signal for the drivers to stop.”
Sengupta, whom sleuths from the commissioner of railway safety met in hospital today, is in “trauma”, an official said. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has ordered a CID probe.
Three cups on the tracks – the mystery deepens ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY SOUMI BHATTACHARYA
Gadadharpur (Birbhum), July 20: Three white plastic cups and three used tea bags lying on the tracks and platform of this small, sleepy station may hold the key to the mystery of the train crash at Sainthia, 7.5km away.
If the Uttar Banga drivers did drink drug-laced tea during their two-minute halt here, just seven minutes before the 2.02am accident, they would have had to buy it from ghosts. At 1.53am, when the train rolled in for its unscheduled stop, the platform would have been deserted, local vendors said.
But then, it’s only ghosts who could have sold the plastic cups. No vendor at the station or the stalls outside sells tea in plastic cups, station officials and hawkers said. None provides tea bags.
No one knows if the drivers drank from these plastic cups, but the mystery still remains: where did the cups come from?
Or could they have been placed conveniently by an interested party after the accident?
Two of the cups, with tea bags inside, lay in the foliage by the tracks just to the right of where the Uttar Banga’s engine would have stood — a throw away from the locomotive’s right window. Nearby lay an empty, crushed pack of cigarettes.
Did either driver smoke? It wasn’t clear tonight.
To the left of where the engine would have stood, on the stone chips between the tracks and the platform, lay a third cup — just under where the locomotive’s left window would have been. The third tea bag lay on the platform, just above the third cup. Who was the third drinker?
Beside the tracks near the third cup lay a second pack of cigarettes, empty but new, as evident from its shiny plastic cover.
“If the Uttar Banga drivers indeed drank tea here, they must have got it from someone travelling on the train,” said Pintu Das, a hawker who sells lemon tea at the station in earthen cups.
If he’s right, one possibility is that it was one of the gangs that drug and rob passengers.
“Only local trains stop here. The Vananchal had passed the station at 1.43am; the Uttar Banga stopped briefly because the line wasn’t clear,” a railway official said.
It’s impossible to say what happened after that. “No one except the assistant stationmaster spends the night at the station (in his office). The ticket counter closes at 11pm after which no local train passes the station,” an official said.
Even the four shops outside the station — two selling tea and telebhaja and two selling sweets — close by 10pm.
“You will not even find a beggar sleeping on the platform,” said Kishen Sharma, a hawker who sells jhalmuri on trains.
Government Railway Police (GRP) sources said their officials and those of the railways, Railway Protection Force and the state criminal investigation department (CID) had visited the station yesterday afternoon.
“But they did not seize anything from the spot,” a GRP officer said.
Human error, not sabotage: DGP – statement not premature, so at least we know which side the CID & IE is tilted ?!!
From Indian Express
By Sreecheta Das & Shiv Sahay Singh
Kolkata, Wed Jul 21 2010, 03:42 hrs (ENS): Investigators on Tuesday started gathering pieces of information that they believe could come in handy to get to the cause of train crash that killed 63 people in Birbhum district on Monday.
Although early, DGP Bhupinder Singh said it did not look like a case of sabotage — a theory that floated immediately since Maoist rebels were earlier blamed for the Jnaneswari train crash in Bengal last month. The DGP said it rather appeared to be a case of human error. (*?!!)
“Prima facie it does not look like an act of sabotage. It looks like a human error or an act of negligence. However, for an answer we will have to wait for the report of the CID investigation,” DGP Singh said.
The CID probe was ordered on Tuesday by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee into the train crash at Sainthia station, about 190 km from Kolkata. Elaborating on it, DGP Singh said it was done since the accident, in which the Uttarbanga Express rammed the stationery Vananchal Express at high speed, involved victims from more than one state.
“A passenger of the Vananchal Express who was injured in the accident filed an FIR at Sainthia GRP and it is on the basis of that complaint that CID inquiry was ordered. The charge that was slapped was negligent and rash driving on the part of the drivers of Uttarbanga Express. A CID team has already left for the spot for investigation,” he said.
Commissioner of Railway Safety R P Yadav is conducting a separate probe. He will hold a court of inquiry at Sainthia station on Wednesday where the guard of Uttarbanga Express has been asked to be present. The drivers of Vananchal Express, who are also crucial witnessess, are also expected to be present.
A second hearing would be held at Howrah later where anyone would be allowed to depose. Meanwhile, railway officials are looking into reports about the presence of a third person in the driver’s cabin of Uttarbanga Express.
He was also killed and, according to preliminary reports, he could be a third train driver who had actually taken leave and was coming home to Kolkata in the driver’s cabin. He boarded the train either at Rampurhat or Malda, said officials.
According to railway officials inquiring into the accident, two factors have emerged strongly over others that could have caused the disaster. First, the extra 12-minute stoppage of Vananchal Express at the station even after it was given the green signal. Also, finally when it left, there was a chain pulling attempt to stop the train near the outer signal of Sainthia station. Three coaches of Vananchal were still within the platform when Uttarbanga ran into the train.
Railway sources said the signalling staff at Sainthia had actually given the green signal to Uttarbanga to roll into platform number 4, having asumed that Vananchal Express had rolled out and travelled a safe distance. When the Sainthia station master realised the signalling mistake, he made desperate attempts to alert the people about the speeding Uttarbanga Express over the public address system and urged people to move to safety.
The Commissioner of Railway Safety, however, refused to say anything when asked about the preliminary findings.
Railway drivers, who did not want to be named, told The Indian Express that the possibilty of the Uttarbanga drivers sleeping while on duty was remote. “The driver had stopped properly at Gangadharpur ahead of Sainthia and it was impossible for both of them to fall asleep within 7-8 minutes that the train took to cover the distance to Sainthia,” said a driver.
They also denied that the Uttarbanga Express could have been running at 80-90 kmph. They said that when Express or Mail trains enter stations where there is a stoppage, they at times do so at quite a high speed like 50-55 kmph. “There is absolutely no problem in controlling the train to a halt even at that speed,” said a driver at Sealdah station.
Earlier in the day, ADG, Railways Dilip Mitra met Chief Secretary Ardhendu Sen and Home Secretary Samar Ghosh, and submitted a report on the accident. “We have given a report on the accident and the possible cause of it,” Mitra said.
– Death toll 63, 40 identified
– Compensation Rs 5 lakh to kin of dead.
– State CID and Commissioner of Railway Safety (Eastern Circle) will probe the accident.
– Of 58,605 sanctioned safety posts in Eastern Railway 7,504 vacant.