Sunday, 5 October 2014

Dussehra disaster in Patna: Chief minister promises action against officials ‘guilty of lapses’

PATNA: Bihar principal secretary (home) Amir Subhani and additional director general of police Gupteshwar Pandey will head the panel to investigate the circumstances that led to the Gandhi Maidan stampede in which 33 people were killed soon after Ravan's effigy was burned to mark the end of Dussehra festivities on Friday. The dead included 10 kids, 21 women and two men.

Chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who was the chief guest at the celebration that turned into a tragedy, had ordered a probe late on Friday. Addressing reporters, Subhani said, "An open hearing will be held on Tuesday in the office of Patna DM. Witnesses are free to appear at the hearing."

Subhani was reacting to people who had surrounded him and ADG Pandey during their visit to the Gandhi Maidan, asking them to explain why only one of the four big gates in the ground was open - an oversight that could have virtually enclosed tens of thousands of people in the maidan. Every big gate has a small gate alongside. But it's so narrow that only one person can exit through the small gate at a time.

READ ALSO: Crowd also to blame for tragedy, CM Jitan Ram Manjhi says

DM Manish Kumar Verma said all the gates were open and SSP Manu Maharaj said an ASP, a DSP and four sub-inspectors were at every big gate. However, eyewitnesses said three big gates were opened only after the stampede. Subhani and Pandey did not say when they would submit their report.

Before their arrival, the police resorted to a mild lathicharge when a crowd picketed on the road near the site of the tragedy. The police had earlier removed from the road thousands of footwear abandoned by people running in panic for safety.

An aerial view of Gandhi Maidan where the tragedy occured

Police sources said the ground was packed to capacity to watch the burning of effigies at dusk. At around 6.40pm, people rushed to the exit from the lone open gate opposite Ramgoolam Chowk. There was dim light near this gate outside which a number of makeshift eateries had come up for the occasion.

"It's yet to be established why the stampede took place. Some eyewitnesses said a live wire had fallen," said an official.

"We don't take lesson from such tragedies," said BJP MP C P Thakur. He was referring to a similar stampede during Chhath celebrations in which at least 16 people died on the bank of Ganga in Patna in 2012 and the serial bomb blasts at Gandhi Maidan during a rally of Narendra Modi in which at least six people lost their lives in October 2013.

Media suffering from 'Nitishphobia'

Jitan Ram Manjhi, who had left for his ancestral village in Gaya district, 100km from Patna, after watching Ravanvadh during which the stampede took place in Patna, denied reports that he returned to the state capital on the advice of former CM Nitish Kumar. "I haven't met Nitishji for last one week. Mediamen are suffering from 'Nitishphobia'," he said.

He assured action against guilty officials if they are found guilty of lapses. "I am waiting for the report of the two-member inquiry committee and would act on its recommendations," the CM said.

On Saturday, the CM also refused to oblige the opposition BJP leadership which is demanding his resignation over the Gandhi Maidan stampede which claimed at least 33 lives. "Such incidents took place in UP, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan too. Did BJP demand resignation of CMs in these states and did they resign?" Manjhi asked a TV channel reporter and added crowds are also to blame for such incidents.

Refuting the charge of incompetence, Manjhi claimed he effectively handled the situation and visited PMCH, where the injured were being treated, around midnight. "I held an emergency meeting with senior officials at 2.30am," he said.

Referring to the Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad's claim that PM Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh offered special plane to carry injured patients to Delhi, the CM said, "Aisi koi baat nahi hui (there were no such talks). Our doctors are competent enough to treat the injured." Ram Manjhi,Gupteshwar Pandey,Gandhi Maidan stampede,Amir Subhani

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