BBC News | Friday, 28 May 2010 | 9:15 GMT
At least 65 people died when two trains collided in eastern India after one was derailed by what officials say was an act of Maoist sabotage. The Calcutta-Mumbai passenger train derailed overnight in West Bengal where a section of track had been removed, a rail official said. Carriages and passengers were thrown in front of a goods train travelling in the opposite direction. Fourteen hours later, rescue workers are still struggling to free survivors. At least 200 people were injured, and the casualty toll was expected to rise as many people have yet to be cut free from the wreckage in the Jhargram area of West Midnapore – about 150 kms (90 miles) west of Calcutta. The area is known to be a stronghold of Maoist rebels.
The state police chief said a 46cm (1.5ft) portion of the train track was missing, and that the Maoists had claimed responsibility for the act of sabotage. "We have recovered two posters by a local Maoist militia from the site of the accident," said West Bengal Director General of Police Bhupinder Singh. "They have claimed responsibility for the incident in the posters." The rebels had called for observance of a "black week" of protests from Friday to Wednesday in five states – including West Bengal – where they wield considerable influence. Early reports said the passenger train had been derailed by an explosion. The incident happened at 0130 (2000 GMT on Thursday). Some 14 hours later, rescue workers are still using sledge hammers and gas cutters to break into carriages where survivors are thought to be trapped, reports the BBC’s Amitabha Bhattasali from the scene. Bodies are still being removed from mangled carriages and helicopters are air-lifting injured passengers to nearby hospitals. Hundreds of police, troops and emergency workers are involved in the search and recovery effort.
Railway spokesman Soumitra Majumdar said five coaches of the passenger train, the Gyaneshwar Express, had been derailed due to missing "fish plates" – which join rails together. These coaches then fell on to the neighbouring track where they were rammed by the goods train, he said. There were 13 carriages – including 10 sleeper coaches and a coach with unreserved seating – on the passenger train, the Times of India reported. Our correspondent said three carriages were totally wrecked, while several others were damaged. Among the emergency teams sent to the scene were 12 doctors and 20 paramedics from Kharagpur, and two doctors from the Kalaikunda airbase in the district, the newspaper reported. India’s railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, has visited the crash site to oversee the rescue operation.
The government has been under pressure following a wave of Maoist-led violence, the most audacious one taking place in April when 76 paramilitary troopers were ambushed and killed. It was the single biggest attack on the Indian security forces by the rebels. Maoist rebels have in recent months stepped up attacks in response to a government security push to flush them out of their jungle bases. They have attacked police, government buildings and infrastructure such as railway stations. Earlier this month they blew up a bus in the state of Chhattisgarh, killing 35 people. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the insurgency as India’s biggest internal security challenge.