Twenty-five of the 29 Dussehra events held in Amritsar on October 19, including the one at Dhobi Ghat in which 61 people were killed by a passing train, did not have the mandatory clearance from the city’s municipal corporation, official sources told The Indian Express.
When contacted, Sushant Bhatia, Estate Officer, MCA, said that only four functions — at Chheharta, Bhadar Kali, Focal Point and Haripura — had the “required approvals” from the corporation. According to MCA norms, a clearance from the Estate Officer is mandatory for such events.
”We will take action against all Dussehra committees that organised these events without the approval of the MCA, including the organisers of the Dhobi Ghat function,” Municipal Corporation Amritsar (MCA) commissioner Sonali Giri said.
However, local officials and police pointed fingers at each other on how these events were allowed to take place without the requisite clearance.
Officials said that according to norms, Dussehra committees need to obtain approvals from the MCA, police and the departments of Public Works and Health, with the district magistrate granting “final permission”.
However, Amritsar Deputy Commissioner Kamaldeep Singh Sangha told The Indian Express that the district administration had “no role” to play in such cases where the police have “final authority”.
”Amritsar has a police commissionerate system and the police are supposed to give all the permissions. The police commissioner even has the right to impose Section 144. In the absence of a commissionerate system, the responsibility is with the civil administration. Even arms licenses are issued by the police commissioner and not the DC. So we had no role in giving permissions for the Dhobi Ghat event or any Dussehra event,” Sangha said.
When contacted, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Amritsar), Amrik Singh, said, “I will have to check if the power to grant final permission is with Amritsar Police.”
According to officials, the organisers received an NOC from police based on the condition that the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s order banning loudspeakers and arms at such venues would be complied with.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Sourab Mithu Madan who, police say, was the main organiser of the event claimed in a video shot at an undisclosed location that he had all the clearances required to organise the function. Madan, who is absconding, described the incident at Dhobi Ghat as a “natural disaster”.
”We had all the permissions for the function within the boundary line of Dhobi Ghat. There was a cordon of 25 feet around the effigy of Ravana for safety. We didn’t leave any stone unturned. There were 50-100 police officials present. The MCA had sent a fire tender and a water tanker. Our programme was inside the boundary wall of Dhobi Ghat. The railway track was not included in our functional area,” Madan claimed in the video.
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”It was a natural disaster. Who could be held responsible for it… We also made announcements from the stage 5-10 times for people to vacant the railway track,” he claimed.
However, MCA chief Giri dismissed Madan’s claims. “We are initiating action as per law as no permission was sought or given for this event by MCA. Now that the matter is sub-judice, we will disclose the facts before an enquiry,” Giri said.
Punjab Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, whose wife and former MLA Navjot Kaur Sidhu was the chief guest at the Dhobi Ghat event, said, “We will put in place a protocol in future for Dussehra events.”