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India: Gaisal Disaster - New investigation announced as search ends, officials suspended

  : Friday, August 06, 1999
As the search for bodies in Gaisal came to an end yesterday, the official death toll from Monday's collision between two trains is now put at 286.
The tracks at the crash site have been cleared and normal railway services are likely to be resumed later on Thursday, the general manager of IR's North-eastern Frontier Railway (NFR) said. There is however still some minor repair work to be completed at the point where the trains met.

Investigation

An investigation headed by the Chief Commissioner for Railway Safety, Dr M. Mani is now underway. He is expected to submit his report within a fortnight into Monday's head-on collision between the Brahmaputra Mail and the Awadh-Assam Express at Gaisal.

Information Minister Pramod Mahajan announced that a Commision of Inquiry will be set up will be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court whose name will be announced within a week. This announcement calls the validity of Dr Mani's investigation into question. Once a judicial inquiry is started, a statutory inquiry becomes redundant.

Suspensions

FIVE SENIOR officers of NFR have been suspended. These include the chief operations manager, the chief safety officer, the divisional railway manager (DRM), the senior divisional railway manager, Katihar and the, divisional safety officer, Katihar. The general manager has been asked to "proceed on leave".

This action was taken as a result of preliminary enquiries by the Railway Board. The suspension of the chief operations manager and the chief safety officer are considered significant according to a report in the Hindustan Times, because it "indicated the Railways' admission to tardy relief operations after the accident".

Resignation of minister accepted

The Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has accepted the resignation from the cabinet of the Minister of Railways, Nitish Kumar. He had tendered his resignation on Tuesday say that he felt that he had to "own moral responsibility" for the catastrophe at Gaisal.

Mr Kumar had been asked by the Prime Minister and others to reconsider his decision. However, following a meeting between Mr Vajpayee and Mr Kumar it was announced that the President Mr K R Narayanan had accepted the resignation on the advice of the Prime Minister.

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