The biggest mega event venue of Bihar, Patna’s Gandhi Maidan, has become a jinxed place now after two back-to-back incidents — the October 27, 2013 Patna serial blasts that killed six people during Narendra Modi’s Hunkar rally and now the stampede killing 33 people. As the state government has started removing senior officers in a bid to deflate criticism from media and Opposition, the question remains: Who owns responsibility for Gandhi Maidan, the district administration, the Patna Municipal Corporation, both or none.
Just as Patna police control room has been watching and assessing CCTV footages of the October 3 stampede, it is coming out with “suggestion” of deaths having been caused because of “asphyxia (loss of oxygen), not necessarily stampede”. If people falling over one another and dying is not stampede, what else could be described as stampede?
Home secretary Amir Subhani and ADGP Gupteshwar Pandey, however, have sought to play down “stampede debate” by saying they had been trying to find out if the incident was triggered by rumour and conspiracy.
Though the stampede was more a matter of law and order and crowd management problems, the historic ground, sprawling 20 lakh square feet, has no maintenance budget. It has only watchmen on rolls to take care of its security. The revenue department that pockets the revenue from it being used for functions is not authorized to spend a penny on its upkeep. It has to depend on contingency fund from the Zila Nazareth for its cleaning on special occasions such as Independence Day and Republic Day.
Patna Municipal Corporation, which is supposed to clean it, sends its employees intermittently, mostly at the request of the district administration. Even the Rs 5,000 security deposit paid for social, political and religious functions is also not spent on its cleaning. The Revenue Department keeps the security deposit and Rs 20,000 daily allotment money. In short, no one is willing take responsibility for Gandhi Maidan that has been witness to many a political upheaval.
In contrast, the Gandhi Smarak inside the ground is looked after by the building construction department.
A Patna additional district magistrate said: “The Revenue department has deputed two watchmen in three shifts to look after the 200-year-old ground. Four gardeners are also assigned to the ground”.
Though the state police claim to have installed over a dozen CCTV cameras to check peripheral activities of the ground, none of the cameras are working. The detection of five live bombs from the ground premises, barely 200 metres from police headquarters, after the Hunkar rally further exposed the government’s claims.
Revenue Minister Ramai Ram could not be contacted, but a senior revenue department official said it was the PMC that had to clean the venue. “The district revenue department can seek contingency fund to clean Gandhi Maidan only during special occasions,” said the official. Revenue department’s proposal of Rs 8.58 Cr for the ground has been pending since 2012.
“It could have been a terror attack. It is time criminal responsibility is fixed on officers and agencies separately. The stampede is a fit case for registering a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against government officials responsible for the chaos. Transfers are only a hogwash,” said a senior government officer, adding that Patna administration needed a crash course in crowd management in evacuation plans.