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Ashram management found guilty in Pratapgarh stampede

March 06, 2010 04:52 pm | Updated 05:07 pm IST - LUCKNOW

An old villager waits for the cremation of his son, killed in Thursday's stampede at Kripalu Maharaj's Ashram, at Manikpur Ghat in Kunda near Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh on Friday.

An old villager waits for the cremation of his son, killed in Thursday's stampede at Kripalu Maharaj's Ashram, at Manikpur Ghat in Kunda near Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh on Friday.

The management of the Mangarh ashram of Kripalu Maharaj in Pratapgarh district of Uttar Pradesh has prima facie been held responsible for Thursday’s stampede that claimed lives of 63 women and children.

The inquiry conducted into the causes of the stampede by the commissioner of Allahabad division has blamed the management and organisers of the “shraadh” (death anniversary) ceremony of Kripalu Maharaj’s wife and the trustees of Jagadguru Kripalu Bhakti Dhaam Trust for poor arrangement and crowd control measures. Even the construction of the entrance gate of the ashram whose collapse led to the tragedy was found to be faulty.

The preliminary probe report was submitted to the State Government on Friday.

Giving the details of the report the Principal Secretary (Home), Kunwar Fateh Bahadur said here on Saturday that the organisers had informed the additional SP of Pratapgarh about the programme, which would be held from 12 noon to 6 p.m. on March 4, 2010. The ashram management had requested that 10 to 15 policemen be stationed at the venue. About 15 policemen were deployed at the ashram, Mr. Bahadur said told reporters.

Notwithstanding the fact that the crowd had started gathering at the ashram at around 9 a.m. on Thursday, no prior arrangement for access control was made by the ashram management and the organisers of the ceremony. The State Home official said around 10,000 people were distributed, food, utensils and clothes on that day. He added that the probe panel found that there was no public address system which could have aided in controlling the crowd and the subsequent stampede would have been avoided.

In fact, the views of the chief engineer and the assistant engineer of the UP Public Works Department (UPPWD) regarding the quality of the construction of the entrance gate were also sought by the Allahabad divisional commissioner. It was found that the “hold fast” of the gate was faulty, which subsequently led to its collapse under the pressure of the surging crowd. Mr. Bahadur said the treasurer of the Trust, Hiranmay Chaterjee, admitted before the inquiry panel that construction of the gate lacked quality.

An FIR was lodged against the organiser and manager of the ashram complex in the Kunda police station on Friday and investigations would be conducted by the deputy SP of Kunda, KP Singh.

At the outset, and arguably as an afterthought, a clean chit appears to have been given to the local police and the Pratapgarh district officials. Reports quoting the Pratapgarh district police chief, Mahesh Mishra, had said that around nine policemen including the in charge of Kunda police station and the in charge of Mangarh police outpost, had been suspended on charges of dereliction of duty.

However, the report was subsequently denied by the ADG ( Law and Order ) , Brij Lal at a press conference earlier. Mr. Fateh Bahadur reiterated that no cop had been suspended.

On Kripalu Maharaj’s name not mentioned in the FIR, the Principal Secretary ( Home ) ruled out the possibility of steps to shield anyone. The final report of the Allahabad commissioner is yet to be submitted, he added.

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