Under fire from various quarters, Punjab’s Local Government Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on Monday continued to defend his wife and close aides in the Amritsar train tragedy in which 59 people watching Dusshera proceedings died last Saturday.
Sidhu raised questions about the railways giving a clean chit to the train driver and other staff.
“How can the railways give a clean chit to its driver and other staff without even conducting a probe? Why was the train hurtling down at such great speed? Why didn’t the gateman inform the train driver that hundreds of people were standing on the tracks and tell him to slow down?” Sidhu asked.
The cricketer-turned-politician is under fire from the families who lost their loved ones, local residents and political opponents since the event was organized by his close aides from the ruling Congress. His wife, Navjot Kaur, was the chief guest at the function.
Sidhu drew flak when he described the accident as a “natural disaster”.
His wife is being targeted as CCTV footage that has emerged indicates that she was present at the same venue when the accident took place and hurriedly left the place.
She had earlier claimed that she had left the place 15 minutes before the train passed killing at least 59 people. Sidhu on Monday defended her claims.
Railway authorities had said on Saturday that the railways bore no responsibility for the accident since it was not informed about the Dusshera event or about the presence of hundreds of people on the tracks. It has refused to order a probe into the accident.
The train driver, railway sources said, has told his superiors that he could not see the crowd standing on the tracks due to darkness in the area. He claimed that he tried to reduce the speed of the train when he realized at the last moment that people were standing on the tracks, but the train hit them by then.
The gateman at Joda Phatak said he was in no position to see people on the tracks in the darkness since the area was in mid-section of the tracks and about 400 metres from where he was manning the gate.