Under fierce attack from the Opposition, the Madhya Pradesh government today ordered a judicial probe into the stampede in Datia district and recommended suspension of top district officials including the Collector and police chief over the tragedy that claimed 115 lives.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, facing attack from the Congress party, which is seeking his resignation for the "man-made" tragedy, announced a judicial commission of inquiry to go into the incident and recommended suspension of Datia district Collector, Superintendent of Police, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Subdivisional Officer of Police and the entire staff of Sevdha police station.
The decision to recommend the suspension to the Election Commission was taken at review meeting chaired by Chouhan at Datia which found the officials guilty of major lapses that led to the disaster in the election-bound state.
The death of 115 persons and injury to 100 odd devotees in the stampede near a Durga temple at Ratangarh during Navratri festivities last morning has prompted demands for the Chief Minister's resignation.
The stampede was said to have been triggered by rumours that the bridge over river Sindh which the devotees were crossing was about to collapse. By another unconfirmed account, the stampede occurred when police used batons to control some people trying to jump the queue.
Lakhs of devotees had converged at Ratangarh, 60 km from the district headquarters and around 320 km from state capital Bhopal, to offer prayers at a Durga temple.
"The incident is shocking and most unfortunate," the Chief Minister, who was denied permission by the Election Commission to visit the mishap site, said after visiting the injured at a hospital in Datia.
He said an inquiry commission would be set up in a couple of days and would be asked to submit its report within two months. The recommendations of the panel would be implemented within 15 days of submission of the report and action will be taken against those found responsible for the tragedy, Chouhan said.
The state government has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 1.5 lakh to the kin of those killed in the stampede, besides an assistance of Rs 50,000 to each of the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 for those who suffered minor injuries after obtaining permission of the Election Commission.
The Assembly elections are scheduled to be held in the state on November 25.
As the tragedy took a heavy toll of human lives, political temperature shot up in the state with Congress party mounting an onslaught against Chouhan, blaming corruption under him for the tragedy.
"Police was charging Rs 200 from every tractor to allow them entry into the no-traffic zone. Is this what they call good governance in Madhya Pradesh?" Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said.
He blamed corruption in plum postings in the state for the occurrence of such tragedies.
"Postings of Collectors and Superintendent of Police (SP) in districts have been done on the basis of money they collect. It is a common practice during BJP rule and those getting appointed in such a manner hardly care for an action in the event of a lapse on their part," Singh told reporters.
In Delhi, party spokesperson Ajay Maken demanded that Chouhan step down owning moral responsibility for the "man-made" tragedy which could have been prevented.
"A stampede had happened over five years ago at a similar place which left many people injured. The MP government learnt no lessons from it. Its misgovernance and rampant corruption lies at the root of the tragedy. It should take moral responsibility and the CM should resign," he said.
The mishap was a shocking re-run of the tragedy at the same site in 2006 when over 56 pilgrims were washed away after water was released into the Sindh river from upstream.
Chouhan hit back at the Congress for attacking him, saying playing politics over the tragedy was unwanted.
"Politics on any tragedy is unwanted. The focus should be on attending to the injured and taking steps to avoid any such incidents in the future," he tweeted.
Later, talking to reporters at a Datia hospital where he was heckled by a large crowd, Chouhan said,"In times like these, doing politics is irresponsible."
© Copyright PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of any PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.