‘Culpable homicide, disappearance of evidence’: CBI arrests 3 Railways staff for Coromandel accident

The CBI registered an FIR under IPC sections 337, 338, 304A (causing death by negligence) and 34 (common intention), as well as sections 153 (unlawful and negligent action endangering lives of passengers), 154 and 175 (endangering lives) of the Railways Act, based on an initial FIR filed by the Government Railway Police at Balasore police station.

A six-member team from the CBI went to the accident site on June 2nd, after which officials in the control room later spoke and also checked the panel in the station whose signaling system displayed the room record, according to a source.

Throughout its inquiry, the CBI also gathered documents and physical as well as digital records from the railway department.

The Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express, Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express and a stationary goods train were involved in the accident near Bahanaga Bazar railway station.

The accident has resulted in a parallel investigation conducted by the Railway Safety Commissioner into the multiple staff levels responsible for the Signalling Department.

According to the CRS report, a signaling error occurred at the location box due to faulty wire labeling, leading to the Coromandel Express colliding with a stationary goods train on a loop line. The three signaling staff, who were apprehended on Friday, were engaged in replacing an Electric Lifting Barrier (boom barrier) at the Bahanaga Bazar railway station on the day of the incident, which took place at level crossing no 94.

Mahanta was overseeing the team conducting the replacement work at the level crossing, while Khan was heading the team of technicians engaged in the task that day. Technician Yadav, who was part of the team performing the actual work on the ground, was rewiring the location box at the level crossing.

The team was asked to check for any mistakes in the wiring at the crossing level, according to the CRS report. Additionally, the report stated that the machines at points 17B and 17A were completely damaged. It was discovered at the accident site that even though it was still showing as normal, there was an indication of a crossover at the 17A/B point. This information was provided by Mahanta K A Shri, who came to the site after the accident.

The CRS report stated that while doing the barrier wiring work, Yadav discovered that the other ends of the flexible wires, which were not connected to terminals F23 & F24, were actually drawn from the back-side of the rack and not visible from the front side. In addition, instead of connecting cable cores, 16 strand flexible wires were used. Yadav noticed this wiring mistake in the presence of Mahanta and Khan at the level crossing.

The team carried on with their task on a road-user signal, completing their work at the level crossing. Despite the accident, they were unaware that their ongoing efforts were related to the mishap. The team also informed the CRS.

Although this is not the first time, officials from the railway agency have been arrested if they fail to recall accidents in the past, said officials. The CBI is currently investigating the train accident.

Banerjee Mamata, the Railway Minister, ordered a CBI investigation into the derailment of the Gyaneshwari Express train in West Bengal, suspecting sabotage. The probe revealed that the pro-Maoist group named People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities had a chargesheet against them for their involvement in the incident, which resulted in the death of 148 people.

However, cases such as these never go far, as the Railway officials have stated that there is usually no “mens rea (criminal intent)” in the accidents that cause casualties on the railways, and therefore, the local police rarely register FIRs after conducting probes that generally bring out technical and procedural lapses.

A senior official stated, “the dismissal from employment, which encompasses the provisions of the Railway Act and Service Rules, is typically implemented by the railways in cases where negligence or mistakes are committed by railway officials during the course of their duty, as accidents could potentially arise as a consequence.”