Patna Chhath-day tragedy: But what is left to probe?

Patna,(BiharTimes): “The temporary bridges made at Mahendru Ghat and Adalat Ghat are very useful. The bridge at Adalat Ghat should be made permanent and locals should also visit the Mahendru Ghat as the two ghats can accommodate more than one lakh devotees.” (The Times of India, Nov 18, 2012.)

This was what the Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, said on November 17 after inspecting various ghats in Patna following his return from a week-long trip to Pakistan.

He was particularly impressed to see the arrangements made at Mahendru Ghat and Adalat Ghat. The other ghats inspected by him included Guru Gobind Singh Ghat, Gai Ghat, Kacchi Ghat, Khirki Ghat, Gandhi Ghat, Bankipore Ghat, Collectorate Ghat, Law College Ghat, Anta Ghat and Mirchai Ghat.

He, however, conceded “I can see that the cleaning drive at the ghats is in full swing, but still the stink of garbage persists. The PMC and district administration officials should ensure spick and span ghats for the Chhath devotees by Sunday morning.”

Two things are clear from what he said just two days before the mishap: that the bamboo bridge built at Adalat Ghat is perfectly all right and secondly he was not satisfied with the cleaning operation.

Two days later the same bridge, whom he praised so much, caved in causing so much casualties. Thus, the first thing he announced at the Press conference he called five hours after the Monday evening tragedy was to hold stampede and not the bridge collapse responsible. This is notwithstanding the fact that in this five hours almost all television channels showed to the world how the makeshift bridge collapsed and electric supply got snapped. By blaming just the stampeded the chief minister did try to give clean-chit to the official preparation and shift the blame on Chhath devotees.

At the same time he ordered a thorough probe by the home secretary, Amir Subhani. However, during the same Monday late night Press conference he once, perhaps inadvertently, mentioned about the dhansna (caving in) of the bridge and diversion of crowd of devotees to other bridge.

Nitish’s statement raised a big question mark: If the chief minister of the state at the very outset says that the mishap was caused because of stampede and not bridge collapse he is not leaving much scope for the probe team to investigate. What is then left to inquire?

It is very much similar to the statement given by the then Railway Minister, Nitish Kumar on Sep 10, 2002 morning just after the Rajdhani Express disaster near Rafiganj in Aurangabad district on previous night. Reaching at the spot the first thing he had said was that the accident was caused not because of the collapse of bridge over river Dhabe, but because the fish-plate was unbolted by the Maoists or criminal elements––which is thus the responsibility of the state government.

Similarly, Mamata Banerjee as the Railway Minister repeatedly accused the ruling Marxists of West Bengal whenever any train mishap occurred in her state. She even blamed them for the rear-on collision involving Vananchal Express and Uttarabanga Express. By giving such statements immediately after the accidents the two Railway Ministers left no scope for the Commissioner Railway Safety to make his own independent conclusion.

On Monday night Press conference Nitish appealed to the people to allow the doctors of the PMCH to work. But he did not say as to what action would he taken to punish the doctors who were not on duty at such a crucial hours. So never in the history of Bihar––––patients had to be rushed to private hospitals because the Emergency ward of Bihar’s premier most hospital was not functioning.

Fortunately the tragedy occurred virtually at the back of PMCH. Thus, in the absence of ambulance people were seen rushing the victims in their laps, rickshaws, motor-cycles, private vehicles etc. But no probe has yet been ordered on the anarchy in the PMCH and the entire state machinery.

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