Giridih (Jharkhand): Seven passengers, including an Australian woman, were charred to death when a fire broke out in two AC coaches of the Howrah-Dehradun Express in the district early on Tuesday, with the Railway Minister stating that involvement of 'miscreants' cannot be ruled out.
Three other Australian women passengers suffered minor injuries and were admitted to the Railway Divisional Hospital.
The fire, which broke out at around 3:00 am in B-1 AC coach and then spread to B-2 AC coach, was spotted between Gomo and Nimiaghat Railway stations, Railway Protection Force Divisional Commandant Sashi Kumar said.
"One Australian woman was among the seven passengers who died in the fire," Divisional Railway Manager (Dhanbad Division) Sudhir Kumar said.
The four women Australian research scholars were travelling to Bodh Gaya from Howrah.
The other deceased passengers who have been are identified are 4-year-old Archita Thakur, 8-year-old Tubi Ali Akhtar, 25-year-old Dr Anumita Singh and Usha Nagar.
Trivedi said the 'involvement of miscreants' in the fire mishap cannot be ruled out.
"Let us wait for the inquiry report. Involvement of miscreants cannot be ruled out at this stage. But I am not speculating anything. According to the initial report, a person came with some smelly substance, then smoke came out," Trivedi told reporters outside Parliament.
"But I don't have more details about it. Inquiry is going on and truth will come out. So nothing can be ruled out at this stage including the miscreant angle. The real cause of the fire will be ascertained after the inquiry only," he said.
The Railway Minister also announced ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh each for the next of kin of those killed in the fire and Rs 25,000 for the passengers of the two affected coaches.
"We have announced Rs 5 lakhs to the next of the kin of each of the deceased and Rs 25000 to those who were injured and who were in the coach no BI and B2 as they might have lost their luggage or might have been injured," he said.
The death toll is further expected to rise as the rescue workers were yet to get inside the completely charred areas of the burnt bogies.
The Railway Ministry officials have also said that there was no pantry car attached to the train, so the investigations are on to find the source of the fire. An inquiry has been ordered by Commissioner Railway Safety (CRS), a railway spokesman said in Delhi.
However, some eyewitnesses said that they saw a short-circuit, but there was no way they could inform the officials about it at 2 am at night.
He added that the affected bogies have been detached and that rescue and relief operations are on.
"We have detached the affected bogies. Relief and rescue trains are on their way," he said.
According to a Railway Ministry spokesperson at New Delhi, the fire broke out at 2:30 am in B-1 AC coach and then it spread to B-2 AC coach.
The train is currently stationed at the Giridih district of Jharkhand which is four hours from Ranchi.
The Railway managers and medical teams were on the site. Catering arrangements have been made for the stranded passengers.
Eight trains have been held up from Gaya and Dhanbad. Train schedules at the Howrah-Delhi route were also affected.
The Railways have set up a helpline for the relatives of the passengers.
The helpline numbers are:
BWN Enquiry: 03422-561601
DHN Enquiry: 0326-2220518
(With additional information from PTI)