A day after the stampede at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan, the toll climbed to 33 on Saturday. Eyewitnesses, meanwhile, pointed to lapses that led to the tragedy. People present at the spot, where 5 lakh people had gathered for Dussehra celebrations, said the “half-open” main gate had a broken and uneven iron ramp, which made many in the crowd trip and fall.
The maximum deaths were caused on the 30 metre stretch between the gate and Ramgulam Chowk. The extent of chaos at the gate — one of four at Gandhi Maidan — can be assessed from the fact that six police jeeps were required to take away the footwear left behind.
The state government has claimed that CCTV footage of the gate does not show “clear evidence of a stampede”. It also said that “people may have died because of asphyxia”. However, an inspection of the ground suggested that standard operating procedures for crowd management were not followed.
The Ramlila Samiti and the Patna district administration, responsible for organising the event, did not anticipate such a huge crowd.
Though Gandhi Maidan has a high mast light and more than 50 other lights, only 20 per cent were working.
There was only one main entrance and exit gate, which was half-open. Vehicles were allowed to be parked outside, clogging the exit. Hawkers around the main gate made matters worse.
A senior police officer said, “As per SOP for crowd management, the situation must be controlled using barricades and a separate exit.
There should be a clear-cut evacuation plan with mandatory instructions to open gates that are shut. All roads leading from the venue to the hospital should be kept clear of heavy vehicles.”
The officer conceded that these procedures were not followed and the police “wasted too much energy in ensuring the smooth exit of VVIPs”. In fact, one of the main gates was open only for VIPs.
Hareram Sao, a Gardaninagh resident, said, “It happened between 6.45 pm and 7.15 pm. The CM had just left and we were waiting to leave. The half-open gate didn’t allow so many people to get out at once and the broken foot-ramp made people trip.”
Mohammed Mumtaz, another witness, said that a cable hanging at the gate made some people think it was a live electricity wire.
Mohammed Niyad, a witness who said he took six of the injured to Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), said, “Police made matters worse by starting lathi charge towards the end. Who will take criminal responsibility for 33 deaths?”
At PMCH, there was chaos all around. Union minister Ramvilas Paswan said, “This isn’t a stampede, it’s murder.”