Centre vs Mayawati govt on Varanasi blast

UP govt says Centre is setting bad precedent by playing politics over an issue of national security.

Last Updated: Dec 08, 2010, 18:28 PM IST

Varanasi/Lucknow: The Centre and Uttar
Pradesh government today sparred on the Varanasi terror attack
with Home Minister P Chidambaram saying there was a specific
advisory given on the possibility of a strike in one of the
Ganga ghats but its utility was contested by the state.

The state government also countered Chidambaram`s
remarks that there was "some laxity" on the part of
authorities that led to yesterday`s blast in Shitlaghat that
killed a two-year-old girl and injured 31 others.

After a visit to the blast spot and the hospitals where
he consoled the injured, Chidambaram told reporters that he
had not come to do a "jugalbandi" or blame anyone but
asserted that the law and order was primarily the
responsibility of the state.

"In fact, as far as UP is concerned, a specific advice
was given on February 25, 2010 that the Dashashwamedh Ghat was
one of the targets. So this area had been identified as a
possible target in February 2010.

"I am not here to do a `jugalbandi` to blame anyone
but specific advisories were given.... It is for the
government of UP to realise that it is first the
responsibility of the state government to maintain law and
order. Police and public order are state subjects," he said.

However, he added it would not be possible to give
pin-point intelligence in advance about any incident.

He said on December 5, on the eve of the anniversary
of Babri Masjid demolition, another advisory was given to
remain on alert.

"I think the police made some arrangements. But I
think what has happened is that because the `arti` takes place
every night throughout the year, there may have been some kind
of laxity. One may have assumed that it has been peaceful for
so many weeks and so many months and that it would remain
peaceful.

Shortly later, UP Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar
Singh told a press conference in Lucknow that "there was no no
specific actionable intelligence" from the Centre about
possible terrorist activity in Varanasi and there was no no
laxity on the part of the state police.

"Holding the state responsible is not not justified.
There was no specific actionable intelligence input
regarding a terrorist act in Varanasi.

"An alert was received on February 25 this year but
that was upto Dussehara festival only. How much this is
actionable in December is for you to decide," Singh said.

"Expecting that input to be specific and actionable
even after Dusshera festival is not justified..... Stating
that the state was alerted in advance is far from reality,"
Singh said.

He said that two "general alerts" were also issued
regarding anniversaries of 26/11 Mumbai attacks and demolition
of Babri Masjid on December 6.

"As a routine exercise, ghats where Ganga `arti` is
held is sanitised at 5 PM every day and this exercise was
carried out yesterday as well. Thus, there was no laxity
yesterday," Singh said.

Asking the Centre to rise above party politics, he
said Mayawati has written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh demanding adequate security at important religious and
tourist places in the state.

"The Chief Minister has requested the Prime Minister
to provide 125 companies (12,500 personnel) of central forces
so that a lasting arrangement could be made for security," he
said.

On the security arrangements, Chidambaram said, "I
think the police made some arrangements. But I think what has
happened is that because the `arti` takes place every night
throughout the year, there may have been some kind of laxity.
One may have assumed that it has been peaceful for so many
weeks and so many months and that it would remain peaceful.

"I have always said there is no scope for relaxing the
vigil. Unfortunately, despite the presence of the platoon,
somebody was able to plant an IED in the Sheetla Ghat (close
to Dashashwamedh Ghat). I think there is a lesson for the
police. There is no question of relaxing the vigil on any day.
Everyday is a new day," the Minister said.

Chidambaram, however, had a word of praise for the
doctors treating the injured and said excellent medical
facilities were provided to them.

He also lauded the people of the city for maintaining
calm after the blast.

"The attempt of terrorists is to disturb peace and
they cannot succeed as long as the people remain peaceful and
live in harmony," Chidambaram said, adding people of different
communities live in peace and harmony in localities near the
blast site as well.

"This is the fourth incident of the type in Varanasi
beginning in 2005, then at the Sankat Mochan temple in 2006,
another at the Kutchery in 2007 but the last three years
had been relatively peaceful", he said, noting that 2009 had
been free of terror attack in the country.

Chidambaram said he was hoping and praying that the
year would come to an end without any incident.

"Last three years have been relatively peaceful. After
26/11 in Mumbai, 2009 was completely free of any terror
attack. In 2010, we have had one terrorists incident in Pune
in February and I was hoping and praying that the year will
come to any end without another incident but unfortunately we
have had this incident yesterday."

The Minister, who arrived in Varanasi this morning,
offered his "deep" regret and "sincere" condolences to all
those who suffered especially to Santosh Kumar Sharma, whose
daughter was killed as a result of the blast.

Chidambaram said forensic experts have already
inspected the crime scene.

He said 31 injured were admitted to hospitals. "Nine
were discharged after being given first aid. Of the 31, four
are foreigners. Of the discharged two were foreigners."

The Minister said the next step was to ensure the
patients are are provided proper treatment and compensation.

"We will take care of it when I go back to Delhi," he
said.

On UP government`s demand for additional forces,
Chidambaram said security is a state matter and the Centre
provides support only.

The state government has been provided with an
additional battalion of security forces, while there is a CRPF
battalion in Varanasi, he said.

Meanwhile, security agencies were examining CCTV
footage of the blast at the Ganga ghat even as a forensic team
from Agra collected samples from the spot.

Police barricaded the site of yesterday`s explosion
between the Dashashwamedh and Shitla ghats which was teeming
with devotees during the time of Ganga `arti`, and people were
not allowed to take a dip in the river. The main entrance to
the Shitla temple has been closed.

At other ghats, the number of visitors has reduced
considerably, police said. BJP has called for a bandh and
shops were closed but normal life in the city was unaffected.

ADM (city) Atal Kumar Rai said authorities are
examining CCTV videos recorded at the site of the incident. He
said if people come across any video footage or evidence
regarding yesterday`s blast, they should immediately give it
to the authorities.

-PTI