Did rumour lead to Patna stampede?
While all are anxious to know the outcome of the probe ordered by the Bihar government into the stampede here, to be conducted by state Home Secretary Amir Subhani and police ADG Gupteshwar Pandey, accounts by witnesses and officials point at rumour having a possible hand in the tragedy.
Patna: While all are anxious to know the outcome of the probe ordered by the Bihar government into the stampede here, to be conducted by state Home Secretary Amir Subhani and police ADG Gupteshwar Pandey, accounts by witnesses and officials point at rumour having a possible hand in the tragedy.
According to police officials present at the place of occurrence, a rumour about electric supply line falling on the crowd near the western exit gate of Gandhi Maidan spread like wildfire, triggering panic among people who ran for cover.
"Actually it was a broken cable TV wire. Some people, including youths, started the rumour about it being an electricity line. Sudden panic gripped the people and they trampled over one another in their efforts to run away from the place. Women and children bore the brunt," said Satya Narayan Ram, DSP (Police Headquarters) told.
A half-a-kilometre-long trail of left over shoes, slippers and footwear from Ram Gulam Chowk outside Gandhi Maidan, where the stampede started, to the eastern gate of the ground bore testimony to the incident.
Lal Babu Prasad, a resident of Mussalahpur locality in the state capital, got caught in the melee and suffered fracture in his right leg. His friend Tinku Sah accompanying him suffered head injuries.
"I was near cinema halls near the eastern side of the Gandhi Maidan, when a crowd of several thousand came rushing. My friend and I fell down while trying to escape it. I felt my leg snap as a few people ran over it," said Prasad, a driver, ruing that he would not be able to drive for months now.
Police officials also held the damaged 'cattle guard' or 'cattle grid' installed at the western gate of the vast ground responsible for the incident. People crossing it got trapped in them and fell down.
"There is a ditch and damaged cattle guard there for
everybody to see. People could have fell on the ground because of them, leading to asphyxia and deaths," said Patna Senior Superintendent of Police Manu Maharaj.
As the SSP reviewed the footage of CCTV cameras installed by the police around the Gandhi Maidan after the October 27, 2013, bomb blasts at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hunkar Rally, he noticed that no stampede was recorded by the cameras.
"The footage shows a very large mass of people moving and a few people fallen on the ground and others trying to rescue them. People might have fallen due to asphyxiation in that dense crowd. There is no panic fleeing captured by the CCTV cameras. Had it been a stampede people would have been running helter-skelter and in the dense crowd that was there, at least 400 or 500 people would have died," said Maharaj.
The Patna SSP, however, said that the CCTV images remained inconclusive as there was dim light near the gate and the stretch around. He also added that the 'high-mast lights' installed near the Maidan entrance where the incident happened were not working and the cameras had no 'night vision' facilities.
Maharaj said the CCTV footage was being analysed thoroughly and that "conspiracy" cannot be ruled out behind the incident.
"We have lodged an FIR regarding the incident and a few persons are being interrogated. We will provide the details later on if anything comes out of it," added Maharaj.
Patna District Magistrate Manish Kumar Verma denied that any of the gates of the Gandhi Maidan were closed. He said CCTV footage was a proof of this.
Dr Khurshid Alam, Principal in-charge of Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), where the injured and the dead were brought after the incident, however said the victims had "suppressed crushed injuries" and seemed as if they fell on each other. He also added that deaths could have been due to asphyxia.