Kolkata (KOAA): Railway police have termed the blast on the Sealdah-Krishnagar local early on Tuesday “an accident”, based on a “reconstruction of events” following the arrest of three snatchers who they said had boarded the train to escape a crowd.
The crude bomb exploded during a scuffle over two stolen mobile phones, the police told the additional chief judicial magistrate of the Sealdah court while producing the arrested trio for remand.
Kana Bhola, alias Bhola Chowdhury, and his accomplice Saddam Sheikh were arrested near Bade Mastan Ghat after a series of raids through the night in Titagarh. The third accused, Rahul Das, was picked up in the Bowbazar neighbourhood of Titagarh, about 24km from Calcutta.
“We arrested the trio and reconstructed the series of events leading to the blast inside the compartment,” said Debashish Bej, superintendent of railway police, Sealdah.
The police said Bhola and his accomplices had boarded the train along with Raja Das, the local criminal who was among the 15 people injured in the blast. This version contradicts the accounts of many passengers who said they saw Bhola and his men get into a scuffle with Raja after finding him inside the compartment.
“Some people followed the snatchers into the compartment and surrounded Raja to get back the stolen mobile phones. Some passengers joined the crowd, at which the other members of the gang flashed their knives,” an officer of the Government Railway Police quoted Bhola as saying.
“There was a bomb in the bag Raja was carrying and it went off accidentally during the scuffle, ripping off a part of his right hand,” the officer said.
Bhola, the railway police said, also revealed during interrogation that two gangs from Titagarh, one under him and the other under Raja, would regularly snatch mobile phones from passengers on board local trains.
“Their areas of operation were between Kankurgachhi railway overbridge and Bidhannagar, Belghoria and Agarpara and Khardah and Barrackpore. The two gangs had met on Tuesday to sort out some issues about where they operate,” the police said.
The police produced two cheap mobile phones in court as “recovered items”.
According to passengers who were in the coach where the blast occurred, Bhola’s gang had boarded the train at Titagarh station and waited for it to move before asking some passengers to hand over their cash and valuables.
But when the gang spotted their rival Raja seated among the passengers, the plan took a different turn, they said.
As Bhola and an accomplice tried to rob a BSF jawan and his father, the other two members of the gang confronted their rival, the witnesses said.
BSF employee Alok Shil had his earphones plugged in when Bhola came up to him. His father Ratikanta said the leader of the gang asked his son to hand over his smartphone. Alok took off his earphones and was about to stand up when the goons went at him with a dagger, he said.
The BSF jawan held his attacker by the hand and suddenly there was an explosion two rows behind.
Alok’s grip loosened during the blast and one of the gang members knifed him in the head, his father said.
“My son slumped to the floor and the goons headed for the nearest exit,” Ratikanta said.
Sattu Mahato, whose wife Nandkumari Devi was critically wounded in the blast, contested the railway police’s version that anyone had confronted Raja and asked him to return two stolen mobile phones.
“I heard the gang speak to him and they were abusing each other. Although I don’t recall the entire conversation, it was definitely not about some passengers challenging one of them and asking him to hand back two stolen phones,” Mahato said. “I also heard a gang member asking another to hurl a bomb seconds before the blast.”
According to most witnesses, the focus of the goons who had boarded the Sealdah-Krishnagar local at 3.20am had shifted from robbery to Raja the moment they spotted him seated among the passengers.
Like Mahato, a co-passenger said he clearly heard a member of the gang shout: “Bombmaar, chaku ber kor (hurl a bomb, take our your daggers).”
Of the 15 people injured in the blast, the condition of three remained critical on Wednesday. Raja, a rag-picker turned snatcher and drugs dealer, is among those in the intensive care unit of BR Singh Hospital in Sealdah.
Mahato’s wife Nandkumari suffered burn and splinter injuries on her right hand, shoulder, neck, waist and hip areas.
Raja’s sister Rani said her sibling was a “small-time criminal” working with a gang of snatchers active in and around Titagarh. “On Tuesday, they had a fight over the share of spoils,” she said, standing outside BR Singh Hospital in Sealdah.
Bhola and Saddam were remanded in police custody for five days while Rahul was sent to judicial custody for 14 days.
The trio have been charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, carrying dangerous weapons and damage of railway and other government property.