Patna: Hundreds of footwear lay strewn on a1-km stretch of road on the South-East corner of Gandhi Maidan here, bearing testimony to the tragedy that struck the people returning from Dussehra celebration today. Patnaites blamed the district police for keeping the exits shut for the revellers after the celebrations which led to the stampede. The half-km stretch of the road from Gandhi Maidan to Exhibition Road and about same distance upto Kargil Chowk was littered with shoes, slippers and other objects abandoned by the fleeing crowd panicked by the rumours of a live overhead electricity wire falling on them.
A reveller Manish Kumar, who runs a shop at Eastern Gandhi Maidan, claimed that he saw the stampede breaking out right and will never be the same person again. “This image will haunt me for a long time to come. “People were desperately jostling with each other to exit from only two out of the 11 gates at the sprawling maidan kept open for the purpose,” Kumar said.
“Panic gripped the people after some youths shouted ‘bhago bhago’ triggering stampede as scores of helpless women and children fell down and got trampled under the feet of crowd running for their lives. I could not rescue them… could have been women of my family and my sons/daughters,” he said. Kumar, in his mid-20s, slammed the police for making inadequate security arrangements for the people, particularly for their exit after conclusion of ‘Ravan Vadh’ saying that no cops were present on the southern side of the Gandhi Maidan to regulate traffic and movement of people.
“But for inept policing, loss of large number of lives could have been prevented,” he said and hinted that the toll must be much higher than being accounted by the administration. Echoing Kumar’s narration of sequence of events that shook the state capital, a labourer Uday Kumar claimed that there was simply no arrangement to manage the crowd at Gandhi Maidan for a spectacle like ‘Ravan Vadh’.
An ice-cream vendor Suman and his friends Ranjit Kumar and Ajay Prasad who claimed to have witnessed the horrific incident said the rumour spread by some youths about electric wire dangling overhead, an old man falling down after entangling with a cable, and jostling among the people to exit from one gate were among several reasons triggering stampede. There was little space for the people on the road as vehicles of district police and VIPs were parked on the road on South-East corner of Gandhi maidan, they said. An elderly man Suresh Prasad, hailing from Lohanipur was seen searching for his four-year-old granddaughter who went missing in the melee.
Prasad’s daughter Soni said that the girl, daughter of her elder sister, went missing after an unidentified man took her and left from the spot. “We are desperately searching for her and have lodged a complaint with the police,” she wailed. “I hope she (her niece) is safe in the hands of that unidentified man,” Soni said as her elder sister sobbed inconsolably for her missing daughter. A number of eyewitnesses said that while scores of people ran for their life from an exit gate on way to Kargil Chowk, a large crowd tried to make way to the Exhibition road where many people, including women and children, met their tragic end.
The narrowness of space on Exhibition road due to construction of a flyover was a major reason for high number of causalities, those present testified. There was inadequate street light on South-East side of Gandhi Maidan as people ran for life and in the process fell on each other in the darkness, the eyewitnesses said. Even the situation at the sprawling Gandhi Maidan later on was not found to be any better as there was total darkness in the premise after the stampede with the state government and district administration shifting their focus on the PMCH where the injured revellers have been taken for treatment and on the streets for security reasons