Odisha train accident: Mamata-Vaishnaw argument over death toll caught on camera

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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee talks to the media after visiting the site of the accident involving Coromandel Express, Bengaluru-Howrah Express and a goods train , in Balasore district, Saturday, June 3, 2023. At least 261 people were killed and over 900 others suffered injuries, according to officials. Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw is also seen | Photo: PTI

Balasore (Odisha): Union Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee earlier on Saturday disagreed on the death toll in the Odisha train accident with their argument caught on camera.

Vaishnaw, who was standing with Mamata Banerjee while she was interacting with the media, sought to correct her when she suggested that the death toll could be as high as 500.

"I have heard it could be 500," she said, adding that rescue work had not been completed in three bogies.

Vaishnaw said that rescue work has been completed.

She asked what is death toll after completion of rescue work. Vaishnaw responded that 238 people had died in the accident that involved two passenger trains and a goods train and added that the figure was according to the data from state government.

However, Mamata Banerjee insisted that the death toll figure given by the union minister was of Friday.

"It was yesterday. We have information from yesterday that it is 238...what the issue is we can talk about it together," she said.

According to Indian Railways, the death toll in Odisha train tragedy is 288 while 747 people were injured along with 56 grievously injured.

The Trinamool Congress leader, who has been a former Railways minister, said she is pained and shocked at the accident and a proper inquiry should be conducted. The two passenger trains involved in the accident are linked to stations in Bengal.

Mamata Banerjee said Railways should be "specially treated". She said the Railways had a separate budget and alleged that there was "coordination gap".

"Railways is like our child. I also a member of Railway family," she said, adding that they were ready to give suggestions to the minister.

Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan was also present along with Vaishnaw.

Later, Vaishnaw sought to play down the disagreement with Mamata Banerjee, saying this is not time to do politics but to see that restoration happens quickly.

"We want full transparency, this is not time to do politics, this is time to focus on making sure that restoration happens at the earliest," he said when asked about Mamata Banerjee disagreeing with him on the death toll.

Mamata Banerjee reached Balasore on Saturday. She had earlier in the day termed the incident as "biggest railway accident of the 21st century".

"Coromandel is one of the best express trains. I was the Railway Minister thrice. From what I saw, this is the biggest railway accident of the 21st century. Such cases are handed over to Railway's safety commission and they investigate and give a report. There was no anti-collision device on the train, as far as I know. Had the device been on the train, this would not have happened. The dead can't be brought back but now our work is rescue operation and restoration of normalcy," Banerjee said

The preliminary report on the tragedy said that the three-way accident involved Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, the Coromandel Express and goods train on three separate tracks at Bahanaga Bazar Station in Balasore district. It had said that 17 coaches of these two trains were derailed and severely damaged in the accident that took place on Friday evening.

Vaishnaw had earlier said that a high-level probe will be conducted into the accident. He said Railway Safety Commissioner will do independent inquiry. (ANI)

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