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’There were truckloads of bodies’

Sunday 4 December 2005, by JHA*Ajay

’There were truckloads of bodies’

Gulfnews: ’There were truckloads of bodies’

By Ajay Jha, Chief Correspondent

Meerut: With provincial polls looming large on the horizon, politicians descended on Meerut throughout yesterday to empathise with the worst tragedy the western Uttar Pradesh town has witnessed.

No one knows how many lives were lost in the Monday evening fire. The official figures continue to range between 30 and 54, leading to heckling of the politicians by the irate crowd still gathered at the Victoria Park to find their missing family members.

This, when 33 bodies are lying at the Medical College mortuary unidentified. They are charred beyond recognition and authorities are clueless whether to cremate or bury them. They were busy looking after VIPs visiting the town after destroying all possible clues about the exact number of the dead.

"Only 54 dead! You must be kidding. They used bulldozers [excavators] to take out the dead and dumped the bodies in three lorries within hours of the tragedy while the electricity was cut in the entire locality"; said Pradeep, a resident of Shastri Nagar situated just across the Victoria Park.

He was an eyewitness to the tragedy and along with other youth of the area managed to save many who ran out of the tented inferno while still in flames.

"Officials claimed they were cleaning the debris. What was the hurry and where did they dump the debris if those trucks were loaded with it. They are simply lying as I saw myself that those trucks were filled with dead bodies. My estimate is that not less than 1,000 people perished in the fire"; Pradeep added.

The eyewitness are questioning the role of the local police. "Police personnel were busy removing gold items from the injured and dead bodies and used their baton to chase us away when we protested against this"; said Aakash, another resident of Shastri Nagar.

By midnight the last trace of the unaccounted dead had been cleared. Cranes were brought to tow away unclaimed cars, numbering about 250 and hundreds of scooters and motorcycles. Apparently their owners had perished in the fire.

The authorities, however, were busy passing on the buck for the tragedy.

Lakhan Pal Tomar, Ashit Gupta and Siddharth Malhotra, the three partners of the Mrinal Events & Expositions, the organisers of the exhibition, are expectedly missing. The city police have lodged a First Information Report against them for causing death due to negligence.

Inside the venue, the twisted semi-circular iron grids are being preserved by the police who have cordoned off the area. The smell of burnt flesh, shoes and sandals still lying around, pieces of burnt ladies wear greeted politicians who visited the venue.

The pack was led by the Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, state Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, federal minister Ram Vilas Paswan. Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh visited the spot and gave sound bytes to the waiting television crews before heading off.

Yadav, who was heckled by the crowd for putting the death toll at 30, made a quick exit after announcing a judicial probe into the tragedy that at the most conservative estimate must have taken the lives of at least 500 people.

See online : Gulf News

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