Datia district Collector, other top officials suspended for alleged negligence; judicial probe to be announced

As many as 115 people were, as on Monday evening, confirmed dead as a result of the stampede that broke out on a bridge near the Ratangarh Mata temple in Madhya Pradesh’s Datia district on Sunday. A judicial commission will be appointed on Tuesday to probe the incident.

According to Chambal DIG Dilip Arya, 110 people — ten of them critical — are receiving medical treatment in three hospitals.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary Anthony J.C. De Sa told The Hindu that top district officials have been suspended, for their apparent negligence, until the inquiry concludes.

“The Collector Sanket Bhoindve, Superintendent of Police Chandrashekhar Solanki, Sub-Divisional Officer of Police B.N. Basave, Sub-Divisional Magistrate Mahip Tejasvi and a few policemen have been suspended. The local administrators, who have been suspended, were empowered to take decisions to manage dynamic situations like these — learning from previous experience,” he said.

Former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh accused the police of taking bribes of Rs.200 each to let tractors tread on the bridge. “All appointments from station house officers to collectors are made in MP by paying money to the ministers. This money is recovered from bribes which the police was collecting,” he said.

Chambal Inspector General of Police S.M. Afzal admitted that tractor trolleys transporting people were present on the bridge. “There were no collisions, but the presence of these vehicles created a commotion and rumours of the bridge collapsing — that led to the stampede,” he told this paper.

Prior to his suspension as SDM, Mr. Tejasvi told this reporter that the crowds were usually large only on Bhai Dooj, which comes after Diwali. “During Bhai Dooj, we deploy locals to manage traffic. This time, we simply followed what was done last year during Navaratri. We did not know that the crowd would swell,” he claimed.

Around 60 policemen, under the command of Deputy Superintendent of Police Basave were deployed at the spot. Victims complained that the DSP ordered a lathicharge to prevent people from running, which aggravated the situation. DSP Basave and other officers were badly hurt in stone-pelting by pilgrims on Sunday.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan announced that a judicial commission would be appointed on Tuesday. “The commission will be requested to submit its findings in two months, following which we will take action in 15 days. Other administrative action by the district administration and the police will be taken after permission for the Election Commission,” Mr. Chouhan told reporters in Datia while visiting victims at a hospital there.

Report on 2006 tragedy in cold storage

The Ratangarh temple had witnessed another tragedy in 2006 when waters released from the Mandikheda Dam in Shivpuri district washed away 57 pilgrims. The bridge over the Sind was built after this tragedy.

The inquiry report, submitted by retired High Court judge S.K. Pandey in 2007, has not been made public yet. RTI activist Ajay Dubey was refused a copy of the report despite a ruling in his favour by the then Chief Information Commissioner P.P. Tiwari in 2010. The post of CIC has remained vacant since last year. Last month, the High Court had asked the government to reply before October 18 as to why it is not releasing the report.

“The government is protecting high-profile officers by not releasing the report. I am moving a special leave petition to prosecute the CM and his Cabinet for criminal negligence. If they had acted on the report, this tragedy would have been averted,” Mr. Dubey said.