Patna stampede: `People died due to suffocation`

The toll in a stampede after the burning of the Ravana effigy at the Gandhi Maidan here rose to 33 on Saturday morning after the death of a child.

Patna stampede: `People died due to suffocation`

Patna: The toll in a stampede after the burning of the Ravana effigy at the Gandhi Maidan here rose to 33 on Saturday morning after the death of a child.

Principal Secretary Home Amir Subhani told a news agency that 29 others were injured, of whom the condition of four patients was stated to be critical. Of the 29 injured admitted to the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), 17 are women and 12 are men, he said.

Additional Director General of Police Gupteshwar Pandey said that he, along with Shubani, visited the spot to inquire into the cause of the stampede.

"We have formally began an inquiry into the cause of the stampede that resulted in deaths of so many people, mostly women and children," Pandey told reporters. He added that police have been scanning the CCTV footage also.

Water Resources Minister Vijay Choudhary said the state government would take action against officials if they are found guilty. "Action would be initiated after the inquiry," he said.

In view of the incident, Urban Development Minister Samrat Choudhary has cancelled his England visit.

Health Minister Ramdhani Singh visited the PMCH and met injured people. The minister had to beat a hasty retreat from the spot after facing the ire of the relatives of the victims.

As the minister came out of the hospital, a group of angry relatives of the victims thronged his car and shouted "Why are you coming here after 16 hours?".

When reporters asked the minister about the BJP criticising the state government for the tragedy, he said, "The opposition is doing its duty while we are doing our job."

Facing flak for the stampede, Patna district administration denied lapses and said the tragedy "seems to be result of suffocation" due to the huge gathering of people for Dusshera celebrations.

"People appear to have died due to suffocation," District Magistrate Manish Kumar Verma told reporters at PMCH.

Senior Superintendent of Police Manu Maharaj echoing him attributed the tragedy to 'asphyxiation'.

"CCTV footage shows movement of a huge mass of people and there is no clear picture of stampede visible in the footage ... The incident (the deaths) seems to have happened due to suffocation," he said.

"Some people are seen falling and others picking them up ... Light was dim as the high mast light was not functioning near Ramgulam chowk... CCTV footage due to poor light is not conclusive," the SSP told a press conference at the PMCH principal's chamber.

He denied lathicharge by police, which eyewitnesses alleged triggered the stampede and at the same time did not rule out the role of rumours as part of a 'conspiracy' behind the tragedy.

Some people are being questioned in this respect and the police was in the process of registering an FIR in the incident.

"We are also checking how far the falling of an electric wire or a ditch in which the feet of some people were trapped caused panic among crowd are true," Maharaj said.

Verma dismissed allegations that the gates of Gandhi Maidan was kept closed, except for the one that opened near Ramgulam chowk.

"Gates were not closed. All the four gates including the one for VIPs were open... This can be seen in CCTV footage which cannot lie," he asserted.

Asked about the poor light condition in Gandhi Maidan, the DM said lighting arrangement was the responsibility of the Puja committee. He said some lights were functional while some others were not working. 

Meanwhile, a group of angry people protested at the Ramghulam square near Gandhi Maidan today. They attacked and damaged half a dozen vehicles, forcing police to resort to lathicharge to disperse them.

Additional security forces have been deployed to deal with protestors.

"Rapid Action Force and Bihar Military Police were deployed at Gandhi Maidan and nearby areas...," a police official said.

Union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan are scheduled to visit Bihar's capital today to take stock of the situation.

Both the ministers had on Friday sought to blame the Bihar government over the incident, saying it failed to learn from the past and put in place measures to prevent the tragedy.

Thirty of the victims have been identified and 28 bodies handed over to their family members at the PMCH, DSP Sibli Nomani said.

The process for identification of the rest was on, he said.

The four critically injured, including two boys and two girls, were being treated at the ICU of PMCH.

The district administration, meanwhile, has removed footwear strewn on a one km stretch of road at the stampede spot.

Hundreds of footwear were loaded in a police vehicle from near Ramgulam roundabout outside Gandhi Maidan.

Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi had visited the hospital where the injured are being treated late Friday.

According to officials of the district administration, the stampede was result of the rumours that a live high tension wire had fallen on the road near the gate of the Gandhi Maidan.

The state government has announced compensation of Rs 3 lakh each to the kin of all the victims.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi to know about the incident and asked him to provide all possible treatment to injured.

Earlier, reports said that half a dozen people had fainted at the event due to over-crowding at the Gandhi Maidan.

(With Agency inputs)

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