Punjab minister Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa on Monday defended Navjot Kaur Sidhu over the Amritsar train tragedy, saying she was not at fault, and blamed the railway gateman for the incident, in which 62 people were killed on Friday.
Navjot Kaur Sidhu, the wife of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, was the chief guest at a Dussehra function in Amritsar on Friday, when a train mowed down several people watching the event.
Mr Bajwa rubbished the Shiromani Akali Dal's (SAD) demand of removing state minister Navjot Singh Sidhu from the cabinet over the incident.
The couple has been a target of the Akali Dal ever since the train accident occurred. The SAD had sought registration of a murder case against Navjot Kaur Sidhu as well as the organisers of the Dussehra function, while holding them responsible for abetting the tragic incident. It had also demanded Navjot Singh Sidhu's dismissal from the cabinet.
"What is the fault of Mrs Sidhu...what difference would have been made, had she reached the venue 10 minutes late," Mr Bajwa said here, replying to a reporter's question.
"In fact, the culprit is the railway gateman at the nearby railway barrier," he alleged.
"A large number of people were standing on the railway track, which was only 300 metres from the railway barrier. Was he not aware about it? It is the responsibility of the gateman not to give green signal to a train when people are standing on the track. When we stage a sit-in on the railway track, the movement of trains is halted," the minister said.
Claiming that the gateman had closed the railway barrier, he said, "Why did he give clearance when he knew that people were standing on the track for at least two hours? He could very well see them."
Mr Bajwa also said it was important to find out why the train was not stopped.
Dismissing the Akali Dal's demand to remove Navjot Singh Sidhu from the cabinet, the state urban development minister said, "A lot of people are demanding the resignation of Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal as well."
However, he said the venue where the Dussehra celebrations were held could not accommodate a large number of people.
"But what can be done, it has been happening for 40 years," Mr Bajwa added.
Navjot Singh Sidhu had targeted the Indian Railways over the tragic incident on Sunday, raising several questions about the national transporter's functioning, and asked how a "clean chit" was given to the loco-pilot of the train, which killed nearly 60 people in "one day".
Defending his wife, the Congress leader had said as soon as she got to know about the incident, she went to the hospital to visit the injured.
Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha has said there was no negligence on the part of the railways.
The Punjab government has ordered a magisterial probe into the incident.