Chhath stampede due to rumours: Bihar govt

Ruling out administrative lapse behind the stampede during Chhath which claimed 18 lives, Bihar government said it was triggered by rumours and hinted at a conspiracy.

Patna: Ruling out administrative lapse behind the stampede during Chhath which claimed 18 lives, Bihar government on Wednesday said it was triggered by rumours and hinted at a conspiracy.

Minister in-charge of Home Department Vijay Chaudhary told the assembly that rumours that a live electric wire had fallen into the Ganga and electrocuted the water, and that the power supply had snapped, caused the tragedy.

However, the probe by Principal Secretary Home Amir Subhani found that neither had any electric wire fallen into the river, nor had any make-shift wooden bridge collapsed on November 19 at Adalatghat.

Hinting at a conspiracy behind the tragedy, he said it has come to light that an individual identified as Ashok Ghosh used the telephone number of an electricity office to report about the falling of the live wire and asked officials to snap the power supply.

The mishap was magnified due to closure of an iron gate in south of the temple at the time of stampede by some unidentified persons as part of the conspiracy. The gate was opened by senior officials which helped to contain the casualty in the stampede, he said.

Chaudhary said probe into the incident has also hinted at the `mysterious` role of an RJD MP but did not elaborate.

The minister said no administrative lapse was mentioned in the interim report submitted by the principal secretary to the home department, but if something of the kind comes to light in the final report, strict action would be taken against the guilty.

Earlier, RJD and Congress members criticised the government for the tragedy and demanded an all party committee of Assembly to investigate the incident.

Dissatisfied with the government`s reply, RJD and Congress members staged a walkout and Leader of the Opposition Abdul Bari Siddiqui said that the incident was due to administrative lapse.

Describing the incident as a "disaster management failure", he said the administrative inquiry was merely an "eyewash" and that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had meticulously inspected the stage put up for his `Adhikar` rally, but had no time to do so for the Chhath arrangements.

CLP leader Sadanand Singh too blamed the government for the tragedy, while highlighting the absence of doctors in PMCH on that evening. He echoed RJD`s demand for an inquiry by an all party committee.

RJD Chief Whip Samrat Chaudhary, initiating the special discussion called by Speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary, attributed the tragedy to administrative lapse.

However, JD-U MLA Poonam Devi and BJP legislator Arun Kumar Sinha defended the government and said the report had hinted at the role of an RJD MP in the tragedy.

Replying from the government side, Chaudhary said due to the wide coverage of arrangements for Chhath at Adalatghat, an "unimaginable" number of people had thronged there, causing the make-shift bridge in question to bend on one side.

He said in fact two make-shift wooden bridges were set up at Adalatghat by Patna Municipal Corporation on the demand of the puja samiti.

The opposition, the minister said, should desist from politicising the tragedy.

Chaudhary said three FIRs had been lodged in connection with the incident, including stone throwing and vandalism at Patna Medical College and Hospital.