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'Carelessness of authorities caused Junagadh stampede'

February 21, 2012 17:22 IST

All the sadhus have unanimously put the blame squarely on the police and district administration for Sunday night's gruesome tragedy in which seven persons were killed and 50-odd were injured in a stampede near Bhavnath at the foothills of Mount Girnar in Junagadh during the Mahashivaratri Mela.

Former Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, too, criticized the authorities for "paying scant respect" to the safety of the people.

"The administration should keep awake when lakhs of people assemble in the Mahashivaratri Mela," he said at the historic pilgrim place Somnath on Monday. Patel alleged that "defects in the arrangements" led to the tragedy. 

There was already a sea of humanity -- more than 6 lakh people -- on Sunday at the hallowed foothills and thousands others were still going there.

To add to the chaos were a number of ramshackle state transport buses -- inundated with passengers inside and on the rooftops -- and private vehicles.

Surprisingly, even when two of these buses collided near the old Panja Bridge around 7.15 pm and created a terrible traffic jam on both sides of the narrow road, the police did not stop the flow of pedestrians as well as vehicles coming from Girnar Gate. There were 2-km lines for a couple of hours with no signs of traffic being cleared.

People were jostled, many were feeling suffocated and shrill horns and smokes emitted by vehicles were only adding to their miseries.

Particularly children and women were placed in a precarious position. To say the least, there was complete anarchy.

Faring serious injuries, including threats to their lives, many made a dash to the forested areas while others climbed on trees, said eyewitnesses.

Many among those stranded in the melee informed the administration and police control room about the chaotic situation and requested them to make efforts to halt the flow of pedestrians and vehicles.

But all their mobile calls and repeated pleas fell on deaf ears. It was not until the occurrence of the inevitable stampede that the men in khaki began stopping people and vehicles at Girnar Gate.

Junagadh BJP general secretary Pradeep Khimani, deputy mayor Girish Kotecha and city Congress president Pravin Tank held the "carelessness" and "sheer negligence" of the police, Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation and the forest department responsible for the tragedy.

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Haresh Pandya in Rajkot