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Probe against Astha train in-charge ordered after passenger deaths
STAFF Reporter
 GUWAHATI, May 19 - The Railway Ministry has ordered an inquiry against the in-charge of the ill-fated Astha special tourist pilgrimage train from the State whose three passengers died earlier this week after “succumbing to ailments” during the trip.

The Ministry is also considering to limit operation of such trains to the period between August and March when heat wave conditions are absent so that passengers do not have to face adverse summer weather conditions.

Speaking to reporters at the Northeast Frontier Railway headquarters at Maligaon today, Minister of State for Railways Rajen Gohain said that there were allegations from passengers of the train that the in-charge could not be contacted by them despite repeated attempts.

“We have ordered an inquiry against the in-charge to find out why he did not respond and why he could not be contacted. Once the inquiry is completed, we will decide on what kind of departmental action is to be taken against the official,” Gohain said, without divulging the name or other details about the in-charge of the train.

The Astha special train had departed from the city on the intervening night of May 9-10 for religious spots in North India. Its route was Guwahati-Varanasi-Haridwar-Hrishikesh-Amritsar-Mathura-Agra. There were around 650 pilgrims in the train.

Three of the passengers – Binoy Kumar Guin (75) of Pandu, Guwahati, Runumi Hazarika (61) of Lankeswar, Guwahati, and Upen Deka (65) of Baihata Chariali – died during the trip.

Officials from the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), which manages the Astha service, had said that the elderly passengers found the hot and humid conditions of North India extremely difficult as they were not accustomed to such conditions.

Regarding complaints that adequate water supply was not available in the train, Gohain said that it might have been true.

“Water is a problem, even in the Rajdhani Express trains. That is why the Railways have taken steps to set up water vending machines at all stations where potable and fresh water is available at very cheap rates. North India is very hot at this time of the year. And most of the Astha passengers were of advanced age. Maybe some of them suffered heat strokes,” Gohain said.

He said the ministry would consider if it was possible to limit operation of such trains to the August-March period when summer does not set in. Gohain said the ministry is also exploring the possibility of providing some financial assistance to the families of the three persons who had died.

Asked if the Astha trains could be fitted with a few AC coaches, the minister said, “The whole train can comprise AC coaches. But that will mean increasing the fares.”

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