Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar on Friday reiterated his demand for a judicial inquiry into the deaths of people during or after the Maharashtra Bhushan award ceremony and said they are seeking information about the incident, including the “actual” number of fatalities, through the Right to Information Act.
Addressing a press conference here, Pawar also responded to a query on Thursday’s meeting between industrialist Gautam Adani and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, saying the two know each other and there is nothing wrong if two such persons meet. He said he had no idea about the reason behind the meeting.
At least 14 persons, including 10 women, died after suffering from sunstroke during the government-sponsored Maharashtra Bhushan award event at Kharghar neighbouring Mumbai on Sunday.
Ajit Pawar said he has written to Governor Ramesh Bais urging him to initiate a judicial probe.
“We have not yet received the correct numbers (death toll). We know the numbers announced by the state government. There are people who are talking about reasons like sunstroke, lack of food, etc. in a hush-hush manner,” he said.
The NCP leader said post-mortem of the victims has been done and he has sought the details through RTI.
“Some people say that there is a discrepancy in the numbers given by the state government. Some are claiming a higher toll but I don't want to say anything about it. During COVID, we had decided that we will not hide the actual numbers,” he said.
Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut on Thursday claimed that 50 to 75 persons have died due to the Kharghar event and accused the government of hiding real figures.
Stressing his demand for the judicial probe, Pawar said some visuals have surfaced where people can be seen screaming and there is no place to move, while in a few others, air-conditioners are being installed. “Again, I’ve no idea whether these visuals are from the (Kharghar) programme. It is a part of the investigation. We have not yet known exactly how many people died,” he said.
Since the government organised the event, it becomes their responsibility, asserted Pawar.
Social worker Appasaheb Dharmadhikari was given the state’s highest award, Maharashtra Bhushan, at the hands of Union minister Amit Shah during the event in Kharghar.
“The state government has formed a committee headed by an IAS officer. It should be probed why afternoon time was chosen for the event and why no ‘mandap’ was erected. These are serious issues,” he said. Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has appointed a one-member committee of Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue) Nitin Keer to probe the deaths of 14 persons.
Pawar said that facts about the incident will come to the fore after a judicial probe. “If the probe is conducted by an official, there are chances of attempts to save other officials. Since it is a serious matter, I have sought a judicial probe,” he said.
The NCP leader said they have sought to know how much money was spent on the event. “Some are claiming Rs 13 crore, others saying Rs 14 crore but my take is that in the history of the Maharashtra Bhusan award functions, the expenses of this event were the highest,” he said.
Asked if he will demand the resignation of the government, Pawar said he would first like the facts to come out through the judicial probe.
To a question about Sanjay Raut giving “advices” despite his apparent dig, Pawar’s response was: “Who is Sanjay Raut?”. He then said, “I had not taken anyone's name. I had spoken about our party and ourselves,” he said.
Amid speculations that he and a group of MLAs loyal to him might align with the BJP, Pawar recently said that leaders of other parties were behaving like spokespersons of the NCP.
On a question on industrialist Gautam Adani meeting NCP chief Sharad Pawar on Thursday, Ajit Pawar said he was not aware of the reason. “If some allegations are levelled against any person, that person meets political luminaries to present his side, but here I do not know why the meeting took place,” he said.
Pawar also said that none of the allegations against Adani has been proved yet and that Supreme Court has set up a committee to look into the matter. US short-seller Hindenburg has alleged stock manipulation and accounting fraud in firms belonging to billionaire Adani.
He also said that everyone knows that Adani and his uncle Sharad Pawar know each other. There is nothing wrong if such persons meet, he added.
On the Maratha Reservation review petition being rejected by the Supreme Court, Pawar said that all the stakeholders, including Opposition parties, should be taken into confidence and a solution be chalked out.
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