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Meerut seethes with anger morning after the fire tragedy

Wednesday 12 April 2006, by PANDEY*Devesh K.

"Bodies dumped to suppress death toll," allege kin of victims; Mulayam gheraoed

MEERUT: Angry residents of this troubled town held a series of protests on Tuesday accusing the local Administration of having dumped bodies to suppress the death toll in Monday’s devastating fire at a consumer fair here.

In the blaze at the Victoria Park, about 50 persons were reported killed and 110 injured. However, the Administration put the death toll at 34 and said 27 bodies had been identified. Of the 40 injured sent to various hospitals in Delhi, two died in Safdarjung Hospital.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, Congress president Sonia Gandhi met the injured in hospitals here and enquired about their condition.

Judge to conduct probe

Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav also met the injured. Angry relatives and a large number of local residents gheraoed him during his visit to the Victoria Park, demanding action against those responsible for the tragedy. Mr. Mulayam Singh said a sitting judge of the Allahabad High Court would conduct an inquiry.

In the afternoon, a group led by a local Bharatiya Janata Party leader blocked the road near the Meerut bus terminus. "Why did they use excavators to remove the debris? They should have first made sure that all those trapped had been removed. We strongly suspect that the police secretively dumped the debris which contained several charred bodies so as to lower the official death toll," charged a protester.

The police have registered a case of causing death due to negligence and under other sections of the Indian Penal Code against three organisers of the fair and are searching for them.

All day long on Tuesday people made frantic rounds of hospitals searching for those who had failed to return home after the Monday evening tragedy while several were unhappy with the treatment meted out at the local hospitals. Mukesh Arora, whose 13-year-old nephew Vaibhav was admitted to Sushila Jaswantrai Hospital’s intensive care unit, said the child had gone to the fair along with his next-door friend and his mother. "Later, he returned home with a local resident with injuries in the eye and hands. We rushed him to hospital, but were told to take him elsewhere. I then contacted a former Member of Parliament at whose instance Vaibhav was admitted," he said.

Mr. Arora said while Vaibhav escaped with injuries, his friend and his mother were still untraceable. "Their relatives have been searching for them since Monday night."

Sobbing incessantly, 12-year-old Mona Siddique and her well-wishers went from one hospital to the other in search of her mother, Aamna, who could not be traced. Failing to locate her, they finally went to the mortuary at Meerut Medical College where the bodies of the fire victims had been kept. At the sight of the completely charred bodies, Mona burst into tears. She could not muster the strength to identify the bodies. However, there was still some hope left for her, as her mother was apparently not among the dead.

By Tuesday afternoon, relatives of over 25 missing people had reported to the District Magistrate’s Control Room, inquiring about them.

Laxity alleged

There are allegations of laxity on the part of the local administration in ensuring that the fair organisers obtained proper fire safety clearance.

Relatives of those killed alleged on Tuesday that adequate fire-fighting equipment was not in place despite the fact that highly combustible material was used as canopy for the pandals and even the floor of the premises was made of wood.

The organisers, Mrinal Events and Expositions, had got as many as 24 air-conditioning ducts installed in the three pandals as part of an "impressive" arrangement. And to make sure that the air-conditioning functioned effectively, they kept just a single entry and single exit to the fair premises. Besides, there was an eating joint inside the pandals that had LPG cylinders.

"Wiring inside the pandals was not properly insulated," said a visitor to the fair.

Hence when the fire broke out it engulfed the entire premises within minutes, giving little time to the visitors to flee. Burning synthetic material fell on the fleeing visitors causing severe injuries. Even the exit and entry gates were too small for many to escape.

See online : The Hindu

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