| A feeding bottle lies at the spot of the stampede on Tuesday. Picture by Jai Prakash |
The civic body on Tuesday promised strict action against the contractor and officers responsible for erecting the fragile bridge on the eastern side of Mahendru Ghat.
The bridge tilted dangerously on Monday evening, compelling the authorities to close it. Subsequently, thousands of devotees took a detour via Adalat Ghat, around 200m away. The rush of devotees of two ghats triggered congestion at the adjacent alley and 17 people, including nine children and eight women, died in a stampede.
“The superintending engineer has been asked to conduct an inquiry into this incident and submit a report at the earliest. Depending on the findings, action would be taken against the contractor and the erring officers responsible for erecting and monitoring the makeshift bridge,” said a senior officer of Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC).
The civic body erected two makeshift bridges at Mahendru Ghat. Each of the 180-foot-long bridges was erected spending Rs 34,000.
The work on the makeshift bridge on the western side started on November 11. It was ready by November 15.
The work on the bridge on the eastern side commenced after the first bridge was ready.
“The bridge on the eastern side was completed in a hurry mainly because of the delay in the commencement of work. The bridge did not collapse. It tilted on Sunday evening because of the damage to three of its pillars,” said a PMC officer.
Giving reason behind erecting the bridge just a few days before Chhath, the officer said: “Till previous year, Chhath rituals used to be performed at Mahendru Ghat as well. Also, the actual flow of river could not be ascertained during the monsoon. We got to know about the changed course of the Ganga only after the water level receded around two months ago. Considering the significance of this ghat for the Chhath devotees, we decided to make temporary bridges.”
Municipal commissioner Pankaj Kumar Pal was not available for comments but an official of the civic body, who was accompanying him during the patrolling of the ghats on Sunday evening, claimed that conditions were stable at Mahendru Ghat when the stampede happened.
“The PMC team, along with the commissioner, was moving on a steamboat around Khajekala Ghat around 4.30pm. Suddenly, we received a call from one of our officers from Mahendru Ghat that one of the makeshift bridges had tilted. We immediately rushed to the spot. Within a few minutes after we reached at the site of the breached bridge, we heard about the stampede at Adalat Ghat. Ironically, things were not at all chaotic at Mahendru Ghat,” said the PMC officer.
Mayor Afzal Imam said: “The stampede had got nothing to do with the makeshift bridge that tilted at Mahendru Ghat. The bridge was repaired within an hour. I agree there was additional pressure of devotees near Adalat Ghat because one of the two bridges at Mahendru Ghat was closed and so we have initiated an inquiry into this matter.”