There was an outpouring of grief from across the country with the Dussehra mood turning sombre as India realised the scale of the tragedy.

At least 60 people were killed and 72 injured on Friday evening (October 19) after a train ran into a crowd of Dussehra revellers who were watching the burning of Ravan’s effigy in Punjab’s Amritsar.

The annual Dussehra celebrations were to conclude with the burning of Ravan’s effigy near Joda Phatak in Amritsar. Navjot Kaur Sidhu, former MLA and wife of Punjab Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu was the chief guest.

Joda Phatak is a manned crossing, called so because there are two crossings. The Pathankot railway line and the Jalandhar railway line meet just after Joda Phatak where they are just metres apart. This area lies on the outskirts of the city.

An open area next to the railway tracks is the site for an annual Ravan effigy burning.Ravan was to turn into ashes by 6 pm. The train was expected to cross the tracks just before 7 pm.

 It reaches Amritsar station at 7 pm. But the Ravan Dahan was delayed because Mrs Sidhu, the chief guest, was late as she had to be present at other similar venues.

The ground was crowded and some people were standing along the railway tracks because it offered them a higher vantage point.

As people retreated from the effigy, many of them were pushed towards the railway tracks from where many were already watching the ceremonies. Many of them were busy recording the effigy go up in flames with their mobile phone cameras.

In the noise of the crackers, joyous cheers from the crowd and the ensuing commotion, people did not notice that the Jalandhar-Amritsar DMU was speeding towards them. The train had left Manawala railway station just minutes ago and was racing towards Amritsar, its destination.

Several of them were thrown off the spot and many came under the wheels. Moments later, severed body parts and bodies were strewn along the tracks.

People rushed to take the injured to the government hospital. Some were taken to the Guru Nanak Hospital.


The final death toll will have to await the dawn. But at least 60 bodies have been counted. More than 70 are being treated at different hospitals. Some are critically injured. So the death toll is feared to rise.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh was to leave for Tel Aviv on an official visit to Israel. That trip stands cancelled and he will be in Amritsar on Saturday morning. Rail Minister Piyush Goyal is in the US. He is rushing back too.

Navjot Singh Sidhu was in Kozhikode, Kerala, for a party function. He too will be in Amritsar in the morning.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of each of the dead. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has announced Rs 5 lakh per dead person. 

The Punjab government will bear the cost of medical treatment of those injured.

Both the railways and the state government are likely to announce investigations into how the accident happened and fix responsibility for the negligence.

Meanwhile, the horrific tragedy is not expected to change anything in India’s attitude towards public safety. That’s the real tragedy.