'Communication gap' kills 100

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  • Published 3.10.06

Bhopal, Oct. 3: The deaths of over 100 pilgrims on way to the Ratangarh Mata temple in Madhya Pradesh have been attributed to a “communication gap” between the wings of the state administration.

As bodies continued to be fished out of the Sindh river in the Seondha area of Datia district, Mohini Sagar dam officials insisted that the release of the 9,000 cusecs of water that swallowed the pilgrims was a “routine exercise”.

The pilgrims had been crossing the river on Sunday evening to get to the temple —in a dense forest 15 km from Seondha — when the water level rose.

The Datia district administration was apparently not informed of the release of water. C.L. Jatav, executive engineer posted at the dam, said he had no idea about the festivities at the temple.

This is the second time in 18 months that such an incident has happened in the state. In April 2005, over 150 people gathered on the banks of the Narmada for a holy dip were swept away on Bhootdi Amavasya.

The Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation (NHDC) had then claimed it had no official information about the religious congregation when it released water from the Indira Sagar dam, 25 km upstream of Dharaji, in Diwas district.

This February, the state government issued a show-cause notice to the then collector of Dewas district, Ashish Shrivastava, and ordered a departmental inquiry against him.

In June 2005, a probe panel had recommended action against Shrivastava and SP R.K. Chaudhary. The police had registered a criminal case against unidentified persons.

Asked why no criminal charges were pressed against district officials who had taken over 24 hours to reach the tragedy spot, then principal secretary, home, Bhagirath Prasad, had said: “Departmental inquiry is enough when it is being conducted with the objective to give punishment.”

However, all NHDC officials who opened the dam gates were given a clean chit.

The Dharaji probe report had recommended guidelines before allowing mass gatherings on riverbanks.

None of the guidelines was followed on Sunday in Datia when the pilgrims were crossing the river.

Over the past few days, thousands have thronged the temple to take part in rituals associated with the Durga festival.

People who had been camping on the banks of the river are still waiting for missing relatives.

Three relatives of Rajender Singh Gujjar said had they been warned about the release of water, they would have taken steps to prevent any mishap.

Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has asked the state home secretary to probe the incident and promised strict action against the guilty.

Rebel BJP leader Uma Bharti and Congress leader Jamuna Devi have visited the spot and termed the BJP regime’s steps inadequate.

They have demanded Rs 10 lakh as compensation for relatives of the victims and a judicial probe into the mishap.

The state government today suspended the collector and the superintendent of police.