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Patna stampede: Officials pass buck

Following the stampede here during Dussehra celebrations on Friday evening, which left at least 33 people dead, emotions ran high on Saturday. Relatives of the deceased and the injured clashed with the police, blaming the state government and the local administration for the tragedy.

“It has been more than 12 hours and there is no sign of my daughter. I don’t know what to do. Hospital officials are not letting us into the emergency ward; they aren’t responding to our requests. I have searched the whole area more than 10 times,” said a frantic parent. According to an eyewitness, “Administrative and police officials were busy seeing off Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi. They did not open the gate, as the crowd would have blocked the road and the CM’s cavalcade would have been struck in a jam. Just after the cavalcade passed, they opened half the gate, near Sir Ram Gulam crossing, and people ran towards it. There wasn’t a single policeman to control the crowd.” Many also complained of apathy by state government ministers. The Bihar chief minister, who left for Gaya after the incident, returned here in the middle of the night and met the victims at around one am. Ramdhani Singh, state health minister, refused to comment, saying it wasn’t his job to answer questions regarding treatment of the victims. While District Magistrate Manish Kumar Verma told reporters, “People appear to have died due to suffocation”, police officials pointed to “rumours” which, they said, were part of a “conspiracy”.

Senior Superintendent of Police, Manu Maharaj, has said the police is investigating the rumours. “CCTV footage shows the movement of a huge mass of people and there is no clear picture of a stampede visible in the footage…Some people are seen falling and others picking them up…The light was dim, as the high-mast lights weren’t functioning near Sir Ram Gulam crossing…Due to the poor light, the CCTV footage isn’t conclusive,” he said.

Some people were being questioned in the case and the police was “in the process of registering an FIR (first investigation report)” in the incident, he added. “We are also checking the validity of claims that an electric wire fell and a ditch in which the feet of some people were trapped caused panic among the crowd.”

Verma dismissed allegations that all Gandhi Maidan gates, other than that near Ram Gulam Chowk, were shut. “The gates weren’t closed. All the four gates, including the one for VIPs, were open…This can be seen in the CCTV footage, which cannot lie,” he said.

On the poor lighting at Gandhi Maidan, he said this was the responsibility of the Puja committee.

Meanwhile, Principal Secretary (home) Amir Subhani and Additional Director General of Police (headquarters) Gupteshwar Pandey, whom the state government has tasked with probing the incident, visited the spot on Saturday morning.

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