Eight years after Jnaneswari Express accident, families of victims still wait for closure

Eight years after the May 2010 Jnaneswari Express accident in West Bengal topped the Indian railways accident list as the worst sabotage killing 148 persons, family members of at least 20 persons are still waiting for death certificates of their kin and are now preparing to move courts with their plea.

At least 148 passengers of the Mumbai-bound express train died after a few bogies got derailed between Khemashuli and Sardhia stations of South Eastern Railway after midnight May 28, 2010 and toppled on the adjacent tracks. A goods train coming from the opposite direction within a few minutes ploughed through the bogies. More than 200 passengers were injured too.

The bogies of the Jnaneswari Express derailed after its tracks had been damaged by activists of a frontal organisation of the Maoists had damaged the tracks, according to police investigation.

“Since the case will be against the state we have to go through a process. We are going through it right now. The prayer will be to issue death certificates of the victims of the mishap to the family members,” Tirthankar Bhakat, the lawyer of four victim families, said on Thursday.

He said the petition will be submitted soon. The state government and the railways will be made parties.

The absence of death certificates have put the victims in a situation where they cannot apply for any benefits. The certificates are crucial since the railways promised jobs for the next of kin of the victims, but the death certificates had to be attached with the applications.

Family members of a few victims alleged that they approached different offices in West Midnapore district and Kolkata but did not get the certificate.

“In the past eight years I went to a number of offices but in vain. I also went to meet the chief minister, who was the rail minister at the time of the accident, but I was not even allowed to meet with her,” said Juthika Ata, 35, a resident of Howrah, who lost her husband and only earning member Prasenjit Ata in the train tragedy.

Her daughter Poulomi also gave blood twice for DNA tests, but nothing came of it.

The death certificates will be issued by the state government and not the railways. Perhaps the state government was not convinced with the documents that the families submitted,” said Sanjay Ghosh, the spokesperson of South Eastern Railway.

Home secretary of the state government, Atri Bhattacharya, did not take calls.

“The families have every reason to feel frustrated. They have already got the compensation of Rs 3 lakh that the state government paid to the victims, apart from the compensation from the railways. So there is no confusion on whether their claims were bonafide,” said Bhakat.

Another Howrah resident, Surendra Kumar Singh, who lost his son Rahul and wife Neelam in the mishap, said, “They were in the train on that night. The authorities collected blood samples from me for DNA test . But I have not got the report of the test yet.”

The authorities had earlier said that the DNA tests from the dismembered limbs did not yield any result.

Prasenjit Ata, Rahul Singh and Neelam Singh were in the S-5 compartment that was completely mangled. Many bodies were crushed beyond recognition and had to be taken out after cutting the metal sheets and hence could not be identified. A few passengers of S-6 compartment also suffered the same fate.

After the accident there was total confusion among the relatives to identify the bodies and what remained of them. A few relatives had also alleged that the remains of what they suspected to be bodies of their family members were taken away by some others and cremated.

According to rule, if a missing person is not found within seven years, the family has to apply to the court that may, after verifying the circumstances and documents, declare the person as dead. “After the order of the court the administration has to issue the death certificate,” said Bhakat.

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