Top official went on leave without handing over chargehttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/top-official-went-on-leave-without-handing-over-charge/

Top official went on leave without handing over charge

A charge levelled by the Congress that police officers on duty let vehicles pass through the bridge after charging money.

If the 2006 tragedy near the Ratangarh Mata temple occurred because religious frenzy was compounded by administration failure,Sunday’s stampede resulted from a complete breakdown of official machinery.

Even as the divisional commissioner is currently abroad,sources in the Chief Minister’s Office said district collector Sanket Bhondve went on leave 24 hours before the incident —reportedly to attend to his ailing mother — without waiting for a sanction. He also did not allegedly complete the formalities of handing over the charge to his deputy.

When the chorus for action began to grow louder,the association of deputy collectors realised the the deputy collector who was left in-charge of the Datia collector could be made the scapegoat and consequently registered a strong protest. Bhondve,who was unavailable for comment,was later suspended.

There was also no exact figure provided of the police personnel posted on Sunday,the ninth day of the navratri festivities,when the devotee turnout is at max. While the DIG (Chambal) D K Arya claimed around 250 personnel were deployed,eyewitnesses estimated about a dozen officials were present.

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Going by official estimates,the number of devotees were in lakhs but the police deployed were so few that senior officials used the number to counter allegations of lathi charge,saying the police would not have risked their lives by angering such a mammoth crowd of devotees. In contrast,for the BJP’s Karyakarta Mahakumb on September 25 in Bhopal,thousands of police officers were deployed for a slightly bigger turnout.

The number of devotees at the temple have been increasing in the last few years,presumably,because the bridge has come up only recently. A charge levelled by the Congress that police officers on duty let vehicles pass through the bridge after charging money,was corroborated by several eyewitnesses.

Although the bridge was constructed as a result of the 2006 tragedy,the BJP government has been reluctant to share the probe report. The judicial commission had submitted its report on March 21,2007,but the government has not shared it yet.

RTI activist Ajay Dubey said he first asked for a copy of the report three years ago but his application was turned down the ground that it was yet to be submitted on the floor of Vidhan Sabha. More than six and a half years later,during which Shivraj Singh Chouhan government completed one full term,the report has not been tabled in the Assembly.

In 2009,Dubey approached the information commission which directed the state government to provide him a copy which he still has not received. He finally approached the High Court,which on September 20 gave the general administration department four weeks time to comply with Dubey’s request. The matter has been posted for next hearing on October 18.

Dubey told The Indian Express that he was going to move another application in the High Court on Tuesday asking for an inquiry by a serving judge in the light of government’s refusal to act on the earlier judicial probe. He said that acting on the previous report could have saved Sunday’s tragedy.

A local television channel also quoted a few RSS activists who accused the administration of suppressing the death count. They claimed to have seen policemen throwing bodies into the water,an allegation leveled by few other survivors as well.