Even as the Indian Railways got busy with restoration work at the accident site in Bahanaga on Sunday, 4 June, Odisha government took up the challenge of identifying those killed in one of the most gruesome train mishaps in the country that has claimed 275 lives.
The official death toll in the 2 June tragedy involving three trains has been revised to 275, from 288 earlier. Odisha chief secretary Pradeep Jena said on Sunday that there had been double counting in certain cases and the actual toll, as verified from the records of various hospitals which received the bodies of those killed in the accident, now stands at 275.
With an exclusive focus now on the identification of those killed, the state government spent the day shifting the bodies lying in make-shift mortuaries at Bahanaga and the district headquarters town of Balasore, to Bhubaneswar.
160 bodies being brought to Bhubaneswar
Official sources told South First that some 160 bodies are being brought to the state capital where embalming and other preservation facilities are available in major hospitals.
The first batch of 100 bodies arrived at AIIMS, Bhubaneswar on Sunday morning and were placed in the hospital morgue.
Another 17 bodies are being preserved at the morgue in the Capital Hospital, the biggest government sector hospital in Bhubaneswar.
“So far we have received only this many. We are waiting for family members and relatives to turn up to identify the bodies. No one has shown up until now,” Capital Hospital superintendent Dr Dilip Kumar Panda told South First.
“Under normal circumstances we keep the bodies of mishap victims for 48 hours and then dispose them of. But this is a special case. We will abide by the decision of the state government in this matter,” Dr Panda added.
Chief Secretary PK Jena also said that unidentified bodies will be preserved for another 48 hours.
“If no one claims the bodies, we can dispose of them as per medical procedures,” he said, adding that identification of bodies was a huge challenge.
Jena said the government will try its best and wherever the relatives are able to provide evidence the bodies will be handed over to them after an autopsy. He also did not rule out the possibility of conducting DNA tests if required.
The identification challenge
One important reason for transporting the bodies to Bhubaneswar from Bahanaga and Balasore is that with train communication to Bahanaga, Balasore and other nearby places still disrupted due to the accident, it will be easier for the family members of the victims to reach Bhubaneswar.
Jena also said that almost 90 bodies have already been identified and handed over to the family members after autopsy at hospitals in Balasore.
The state government is using all possible means for the identification of the bodies.
Photographs of those killed in the accident have been posted on srcodisha.nic.in, the official website of state’s Special Relief Commissioner to facilitate identification.
However, the site has added a disclaimer that says: “The photographs of the deceased in Balasore train accident are being posted only to facilitate identification. Given the nature of the accident, the images posted below are disturbing. It is advised that children avoid viewing these images. Viewers discretion may be exercised.
“None (Media/Individual/Firms, etc.) shall reproduce/publish and use the images for any purpose without prior written approval of the Special Relief Commissioner, Odisha.”
The site also gives a list of mishap victims being treated in different hospitals with a help desk number (1929).
The state government has urged the family members and relatives of the deceased to come forward to identify and claim the bodies.
“There are still a number of bodies to be claimed in various morgues. The state government is appealing to the next of kin from different states to identify and claim the bodies. Details can be found on this website https://srcodisha.nic.in/,” the government said in a release.
Police warn communal mischief-mongers
Meanwhile, in another important development, the state police issued a stern warning to potential mischief-mongers to refrain from trying to communalise the train accident at Bahanaga.
The warning was sent out after a Twitter user named “The Random India” shared an aerial view of the Bahanaga train accident site with an arrow pointing towards a white building.
The user captioned it: “Just saying yesterday was a Friday.”
Other Twitter handles also sought to identify the building as a mosque, despite the fact that fact-checking sites such as altnews.in debunking that claim and pointing out that it was actually an Iskon temple.
As the post went viral, the Odisha police tweeted: “It has come to notice that some social media handles are mischievously giving communal colour to the tragic train accident at Balasore. This is highly unfortunate. Investigation by the GRP, Odisha, into the cause and all other aspects of the accident is going on.”
Asking people to desist from such activities, the state police said, “We appeal to all concerned to desist from circulating such false and ill-motivated posts. Severe legal action will be initiated against those who are trying to create communal disharmony by spreading rumours.”