Patna, Dec. 5: The state government today gave a clean chit to the district administration in the Adalat Ghat stampede tragedy and accused an RJD MP of spreading rumours after the incident, much to the dismay of the Opposition.
Speaking on behalf of the government during a debate in the Assembly on the tragedy, water resources minister Vijay Kumar Chaudhary said malicious rumours had sparked the November 19 stampede that claimed lives of 17 people when they were returning from the ghat after performing the Pehli Arghya rituals.
"The main reason for the stampede was neither the collapse of the bamboo bridge nor a naked electricity wire," said Chaudhary. "Rumours created confusion at Adalat Ghat; rumours sparked panic and the stampede near the pontoon bridge. Rumours are explosive. Rumours had triggered the violence in Madhubani as well."
RJD MP Ram Kripal Yadav was accused of triggering chaos at Patna Medical College and Hospital after the stampede.
Principal secretary, home, Amir Subhani, who was appointed by the government to investigate the Adalat Ghat incident, was present in the Assembly with district magistrate Sanjay Kumar and senior superintendent of police Amrit Raj when the minister was speaking in the debate.
The JD(U)'s Poonam Devi, Congress legislator Sadanand Singh, BJP MLA Arun Kumar Sinha and Independent MLA Pawan Kumar Jha also took part in the debate, which began at 10am and went on for an hour.
Speaking in the debate, Chaudhary said: "Home secretary Amir Subhani has submitted an interim report of his investigation. It clearly states that the stampede occurred after a person named Ashok Ghosh called up the power board and informed the officials on duty about a naked electricity wire near the pontoon bridge. When the power supply was cut off at Adalat Ghat, devotees panicked and started running here and there."
The Opposition, which had called for the debate, had come well prepared to corner the government.
Though the minister let off the administration, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Abdul Bari Siddiqui held it responsible for the tragedy. "I had visited Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) after the incident and saw bodies lying in corners. Before the Adhikar Rally, the chief minister had ordered policemen to jump on the bamboo stage to check if it was strong enough. Why the same could not be repeated on the bamboo bridge at the ghat that collapsed?"
Adhikar Rally was organised by the JD(U) to add steam to the state government's demand for special status for Bihar.
Chaudhary rebutted that the accusations of the Opposition were baseless.
"Proper arrangements were made at Adalat Ghat. One end of the bamboo bridge was wobbly but it was repaired for the use of the devotees," he said.
His JD(U) colleague Poonam Devi attacked RJD Rajya Sabha member Ram Kripal Yadav for allegedly provoking the people over the incident. "He was the one who created panic at the PMCH," she said. "During the Lalu-Rabri regime, a ghat would be sealed off for them to perform puja. Our chief minister also observes Chhath rituals but at home, without disturbing anyone."
Siddiqui responded to the accusation by saying: "My colleague and I don't play politics over bodies. When the stampede occurred, no policeman or district official was present at the spot. All policemen were deployed elsewhere because the chief minister was inspecting the ghats. To send a strong message to the people, the administration should have suspended the officials responsible for the security of the people."
Chief minister Nitish Kumar was not present during the special debate and reached the Assembly around 11.45am. But he said: "An investigation is going on. The government answered the House on the basis of the interim report. We are also trying to find out what triggered the chaos at the PMCH on the day of the incident."
He added: "Those making allegations should refresh their memories. In October 1995, as many as 66 people were killed at Nariyal Ghat during Chhath Puja. The police and the administration were busy looking after a VIP then. Our government is not like that. We are investigating the case."