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A day after, stampede stupor
‘Reasonable time’ for tragedy probe

Patna, Nov. 20: Roshan Sao, a 40-year-old transport agent, lost his entire family in Monday evening’s stampede. His wife, 11-year-old son and a daughter all of one year were crushed to death in the narrow alley leading out of Adalat Ghat after a power outage in the dark sparked a rush among devotees to get to the main road.

Sao still doesn’t know how within a matter of minutes his world collapsed.

A day later, even the state government appeared as clueless on the tragedy though chief minister Nitish Kumar had said the administration’s “eyes had opened”.

The administration said it is taking “reasonable time” to ascertain how at least 17 people, among them nine children, lost their lives. [Unofficial sources have put the death toll at over 18.]

“The report on the cause of the incident will be submitted to the chief minister within reasonable time. The probe has already begun and it will cover all aspects of the incident,” principal secretary, home, Amir Subhani said.

Even after 24 hours, the administration is yet to make any headway and fix accountability. For the sake of investigation, a case of unnatural death has been lodged with the Pirbahore police station.

Deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi said the home secretary will “submit his findings to the government in four-five days”. Modi had supervised Chhath preparations when Nitish was away in Pakistan.

The health department has set up an internal inquiry to find out why doctors were not present at the emergency ward of PMCH when the injured were brought for treatment. Health secretary Vyasji said when he visited the hospital around 8.30pm on Monday, he found the doctors scared. “They had fled from the ward as they apprehended attack by the relatives of the victims,” he said.

Home secretary Subhani, sources said, would inquire into the cause of the stampede and the deployment of security forces around Adalat Ghat.

Sources said the quality of the makeshift bridges near Mahendru Ghat would also come under the ambit of the probe. One of the bridges tilted dangerously and was closed to devotees, prompting the rush to the nearby Adalat Ghat.

But what is baffling is why the creaking bridge at Mahendru Ghat was removed soon after the incident on Monday night. District magistrate Sanjay Kumar Singh, however, said the bridge was removed as a precautionary measure.

Even more surprising, the district police control room first received information about the incident at 7.15pm, when the stampede occurred around 5.30pm. “We got information from a journalist and not from any police official,” a policeman deputed at the control room said.

The logbook of the district control room also mentions a power cut for a few minutes in the locality after the incident. “When inquired about the power cut, officials at Pesu (the state electricity undertaking) said that it would take more than 10-15 minutes to restore power,” the control room official said.

Sources said most of the police officials were engaged in VIP security instead of taking care of the devotees. “The officials were more concerned about VIP security. As soon as a message about the movement of a VIP was flashed through the wireless, the police officials abandoned the ghats and shifted focus,” a police source said.

The blame game has begun with the National Disaster Response Force pinning the onus on the Patna district administration. Commandant of NDRF’s 9th battalion, S.S. Guleria, said: “We could not get information about the stampede on time. Else some lives could have been saved,” he said.

Guleria said NDRF personnel stationed at Bihta were patrolling the river on Monday evening. But neither administration officials nor the police contacted the NDRF team, he added.

Deputy chief minister Modi said the government would bear the cost of treatment of the injured.