Meerut, April 11: The fire had been out for hours but anger smouldered outside Victoria park today, with people heckling the chief minister.
At the morgue, a few kilometres from the park where a crowded consumer fair was swallowed by flames last evening, charred bodies were laid out on slabs of ice, shrouded in white cotton or black plastic sheets. Friends and relatives, faces covered with handkerchiefs to keep off the stench, peered at them. Away from the throng, a man sobbed, comforted by a relative.
The official toll was put at 35. Last night, a senior police officer had said 45 had died.
“Down with administration, down with police,” over 1,500 people chanted. They attacked the media, suspecting the toll was being played down, threw stones and scuffled with police before being chased away, adds Reuters.
Meerut residents said the pandals housing the home appliances should never have been allowed. Event managers Mrinal Events and Expositions had not sought the fire department’s clearance. Not only did the additional district magistrate grant permission, the district magistrate was at the inauguration, they said.
A judicial probe was ordered and an FIR lodged, but the event managers are missing.
The pandals had a steel frame ' it is still standing ' covered with inflammable material. For entry and exit, there were two small doors, and finding the way out was not easy.
“It was like a maze,” said Nitin Rastogi, who had a stall selling water filters. His hands bore the marks of his effort to cut through a wall of cloth, vinyl and plastic panels. “It was like rubber; it wouldn’t tear.”
In the hospitals, there was calm. Only about 10 burn victims remained at Sushila Jaswantrai Hospital, with the rest either sent home or shifted elsewhere.
Javed Ahmed, a student working at a healthcare goods stall, was one. Swathed in bandages and with arms stretched outwards in traction, he needn’t have been there. The 18-year-old from Delhi had escaped the blaze. But a group of children were trapped inside. “He couldn’t bear that; he had to go back inside,” said co-worker Arif Chaudhary, who heard the story from those Javed had saved.