By: vivek j
June 7 2023
Image source: Reuters/ANI
On June 2, 2023, a major train accident involving three different trains in Balasore, Odisha, led to the deaths of at least 275 people, leaving over 1,100 injured. The Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said that the accident happened due to a change in the electronic interlocking and that the rail safety commissioner would soon submit the inquiry report. He also said that the changes done to the electronic interlocking that led to the accident had been identified.
While the investigation has been handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), social media has been abuzz with conspiracy theories and false narratives since the day of the accident.
Here’s a quick round-up of what we have debunked so far.
While the rescue operations were still underway following the train accident, some social media posts claimed that there was a mosque near the accident site. They blamed the Muslim community and alleged that the accident was a “conspiracy.”
Some users went a step ahead and linked it to the Friday prayers (a sacred day in Islam). However, we found that the structure being identified as a mosque was a temple. We used Google Earth to identify it and then spoke to reporters on the ground to confirm. You can read our fact-check here.
Similarly, another post on Twitter misidentified the station master as ‘Mohammed Sharif’ and added that he has been on the run since the accident. Several right-wing users picked up and shared this post pushing the communal narrative forward.
Speaking to Logically Facts, South Eastern Railways Chief Public Relations Officer Aditya Kumar Chaudhary said that no staff member named ‘Sharif’ is working at the Bahanaga railway station. You can find our fact-check on this story here.
As these narratives went viral, 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.”
"Severe legal action will be initiated against those who are trying to create communal disharmony by spreading rumours," the tweet added.
A person, who claims to be an RSS worker, has shared an image on Twitter which shows the rescue efforts. It was shared with a claim, “25 RSS volunteers are involved in relief efforts at the Odisha Balasore accident site under the RSS district co-ordinator Mr. Vishnu.”
However, the image shared with this post is unrelated to the June 2023 incident in Odisha’s Balasore. Logically Facts has found that this image was from 2015. A train en route to Ernakulam in Kerala from Bengaluru derailed in Belagondapalli, near Anekal, on the outskirts of Bengaluru on February 13, 2015. Back then, news outlets had published this photo showing the rescue operations from Belagondapalli.
Another CCTV clip was shared widely on Twitter, claiming it to be from the Balasore train accident. This clip shows a collision between two trains and people escaping from the derailed coaches. However, this video is also from 2019.
Logically facts has debunked this claim and found that this was actually a collision between Lingampalli-Falaknuma multi-modal transport system (MMTS) and the Kurnool-Secunderabad Hundry Intercity Express at the Kacheguda Railway station in Hyderabad. This CCTV clip has a lot of visual discrepancies that show it is not from the recent incident.
This incident was widely covered in 2019, and it was reported that the mishap took place due to a human error by one of the loco pilots.
Several users also shared a clip of an overcrowded coach and claimed that it showed the condition of one of the passenger trains involved in the crash. The video shows people struggling to find space in the train coach.
However, this video has been on the internet since May 2023, a month before the crash. The video was shared by a social media user who was complaining about the dire conditions in the sleeper coach of the Coromandel Express.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several top political figures visited the train accident site in Balasore, Odisha. The Prime Minister visited Balasore and went to the Cuttack hospital, where many of the injured are being treated. In the backdrop of his visit, some social media users shared images of a hospital being renovated and claimed that it happened ahead of Modi’s visit.
We found that these images were from Morbi, Gujarat, where a bridge collapsed in October 2022. There the hospital was renovated before the prime minister’s visit.
Claims also surfaced on social media that cricketers Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli had made donations for the victims of the tragedy. However, there is no veracity to these claims either.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, social media users have been working full-time to churn out these narratives and conspiracy theories. In a situation like this, you must steer clear of such misinformation and verify before sharing!