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Are the Meerut fire casualties being fudged?
Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow | April 11, 2006 23:06 IST
With top officials of the state scaling down their own official figures of the dead from 50 to 35 in Monday's blaze in Meerut, they were being held suspect for alleged fudging of casualties.
State Principal Home Secretary Satish Kumar Agarwal and Director General of Police Bua Singh, who had themselves on Monday night put the toll at 50, told a joint press conference Tuesday evening, "The number of dead in the fire that broke out at a consumer fair in Meerut on Monday was actually only 35 so far, but the figure could rise."
Agarwal said, "While 31 persons had died almost instantaneously in the inferno, three persons with burn wounds breathed their last in Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital and one succumbed to burn injuries in Meerut on Tuesday, taking the toll to 35." Five persons were stated to be "missing".
The dead included 16 women, 14 men and one child. "Post-mortem had been carried out on 22 of the bodies, while the rest were awaiting identification," Meerut Chief Medical Officer Dr M K Bajpai told this scribe over telephone.
As many as 131 persons with burn wounds were hospitalised in different hospitals of Delhi, Noida and Meerut.
"With at least 80 persons having sustained more than 60 per cent burns, it was going to be a tough battle of survival for those undergoing treatment in hospitals," Bajpai feared. He described 16 of the injured as "critical".
While protestors blamed the administration for changing its own verson within a span of 24 hours, "only to save the official compensation", Home Secretary Agarwal termed it as an "error."
He sought to clarify, "With the entire local machinery engaged in rescue and relief operations, you must give them the benefit of doubt for some overlapping that led to the excess count on Monday."
Reacting to widespread rumours about the administration's bid to play down the number of casualties, police chief Bua Singh asked, "Tell me what would we achieve by concealing the number of deaths in a calamity like this inferno?"
Earlier, Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav had announced an ex gratia payment of Rs 2,00,000 to the next of kin of each of the dead.
Termed as the worst calamity witnessed by the city in recent times, the blaze, sparked off by an electrical short-circuit in one of the three tented enclosures around 5.30 pm Monday, took minutes to spread across to the two other adjoining enclosures that were razed before any help could arrive.
Made of synthetic material in the shape of hangars, each of the three enclosures went up in flames, while people trapped inside struggled to get out through the narrow corridor with just one entry and exit.