Indore stepwell roof collapse death toll rises to 36

When the Indore Municipal Corporation directed temple authorities to remove the encroachments in 2022, the temple trust president claimed the move would hurt religious sentiments

Updated - April 01, 2023 07:27 am IST

Published - March 31, 2023 09:37 pm IST - RAIPUR

A police officer takes pictures during a rescue operation in Indore on March 31, 2023 after the roof of a stepwell in a temple complex collapsed the previous night.

A police officer takes pictures during a rescue operation in Indore on March 31, 2023 after the roof of a stepwell in a temple complex collapsed the previous night. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The death toll in the Indore temple stepwell roof collapse incident rose to 36 on Friday. The police have registered a First Information Report (FIR) against two temple trustees even as residents accused the Indore Municipal Corporation of failing to check illegal encroachment by the temple management. 

Earlier, on Thursday, a slab constructed on top of an ancient bawdi or stepwell at the Beleshwar Mahadev Jhulelal temple collapsed during a havan programme causing the mishap. Rescue operations continued till Friday afternoon when the 36th body was fished out. 

According to the Juni Indore police station’s officer-in-charge Neeraj Medha, the FIR was registered against Sevaram Galani, president of the Beleshwar Mahadev Jhulelal Temple Trust, and its secretary Murli Kumar Sabnani, under Indian Penal Code Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder). A magisterial probe has also been ordered and further police action will depend on the findings of the probe, Indore Police Commissioner Makrand Deuskar said.

Illegal construction

While the stepwell roof in question has been there for at least two decades, it has now emerged that it was an unauthorised construction. Residents further alleged that the temple management tried to encroach public land from a nearby park. These encroachments, they added, were flagged to the authorities, including the Indore Municipal Corporation (IMC), but remained unchecked. 

Some letters, purportedly exchanged on the encroachment issue between the temple stakeholders, other residents, and municipal authorities, have also surfaced. In one such letter, written in response to a notice to remove encroachments last year, the Trust’s president Sevaram Galani had written to the IMC that such a move would hurt religious sentiments. Although the IMC in a subsequent reply in January this year had set aside the objections, calling the Trust’s response baseless and warning that it would go ahead with the removal of the alleged encroachments within a week, there was no follow-up action on the ground. 

“The Indore Municipal Corporation had ordered the trust to remove the illegal construction in the temple complex, but the trust did not comply with the order. The accused have not been arrested as yet,” said Mr. Medha of Indore Police.

Slogan shouting

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Friday morning visited the private hospital where 16 people were admitted before heading to the site of the tragedy.

A video showed some people shouting “Murdabad-Murdabad”, “Hai-Hai” and “Shame-Shame” slogans near the temple in front of Mr. Chouhan, State Home Minister Narottam Mishra, Indore Mayor Pushyamitra Bhargava, and local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders.

Preventing future tragedies

The CM told journalists that he had directed the administration to find out if there were any more such wells or borewells over which construction has been carried out, covering them in a similarly dangerous way. 

“We want to ensure that the tragedy that struck the Indore temple does not occur anywhere else again... If any well, stepwell or borewell is found to be in a dangerous condition on private or government land, then action will be taken against the concerned land owner or officer,” said Mr. Chouhan.

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