- A video shows a man standing next to the chief guest, speaking on the mic
- These people don't care about standing on tracks, he boasts
- Video suggests the tragedy was a direct result of deadly negligence
Moments before 61 people watching a Ravan effigy burn were crushed under a train in Amritsar on Friday evening, an organizer of the Dussehra event had bragged to the chief guest, Congress leader and former lawmaker Navjot Kaur Sidhu, that the crowd there was so enthusiastic to see her that they would stand on the nearby railway tracks and not budge even if hundreds of trains pass by.
A video that has emerged today shows a man standing next to the heavily garlanded chief guest, and speaking on the mic, "Madam, look here, these people don't care about standing on tracks. Over 5,000 people are (standing) on (railway tracks) lines for you and even if 500 trains pass by, they will not move."
The video suggests the tragedy was a direct result of deadly negligence; the organisers were aware of the danger but took no precautions.
The organisers didn't have permissions from the municipal corporation, the pollution department and the Railways, which called the event a "clear case of trespassing".
They did get a "no objection" certificate from the Amritsar police following an assurance that they would follow the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court on the use of loudspeakers; traffic movement would not be disrupted; and nobody would be allowed to carry any weapon to the event.
Local media identified the organiser of the event as Mithoo Madan, a local Congress councillor. When asked if she was aware that the organisers didn't have necessary permissions, Ms Sidhu said it wasn't possible for her to check permissions given for the events she attends.
Ms Sidhu, wife of former cricketer and Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who says she had left before the killer train turned festivities into tragedy, said four to five announcements were made from the stage, urging people not to stand on the railway tracks.
"They were told that there was enough space at the Dhobi Ghat ground and they could come there but the people ignored the calls," she said.
Last evening, she hit out at criticism that she left the spot after the train ran over spectators positioned on tracks to catch a glimpse of the burning Ravan.
As soon as she came to know about the incident, she rushed to the hospital, Ms Sidhu, who is also a doctor, said. "I even spoke to doctors so that the injured got urgent care. In fact, I provided treatment to some of them," she said.
She also attacked the opposition for "taking advantage of such a tragic incident to further one's political interests".
"Dussehra festivities are held at this site every year. Are you saying that we asked them to stand on the tracks? Did we run the train over them? All the previous governments -- even the Akali Dal administration -- would hold Dussehra at the same spot. People who are politicising this should be ashamed," she lashed out.
The Congress leader blamed the Railways for the tragedy. "It was paramount that the Railways slow down the train at the site of a large event like this. How could they run their trains at such speed when there were so many people around? Half the people had moved away after listening to my speech. They did not even realise what had happened!" she said.