Hathras Stampede: Uttar Pradesh Govt Forms Judicial Commission

Hathras Stampede

The Uttar Pradesh government has established a three-member judicial commission, headed by retired Allahabad High Court judge Brijesh Kumar Srivastav, to investigate the Hathras tragedy and the possible “conspiracy” behind the stampede that killed 121 people at a religious gathering. The commission will also explore whether the stampede resulted from any planned criminal activity.

The commission includes retired IAS officers Hemant Rao and Bhavesh Kumar. It is tasked with submitting its report within two months, as announced by the state government in Lucknow.

The police have filed a First Information Report (FIR) against the organisers of the ‘satsang’ near Phulhari village, accusing them of allowing 250,000 people into the venue despite having permission for only 80,000. ‘Satsang’ preacher Bhole Baba’s lawyer, A P Singh, stated that the preacher is ready to cooperate with the state administration and the police. Singh claimed that “some anti-social elements hatched a conspiracy.”

The FIR, filed at the Sikandra Rau police station, names ‘Mukhya sevadar’ Devprakash Madhukar and other organisers as accused, but does not include the preacher, Jagat Guru Saakar Vishwahari Bhole Baba. Adityanath announced the judicial probe while visiting Hathras to meet those injured in the stampede. “If this is not an accident, then whose conspiracy is this? All of this will be probed,” he told reporters.

The commission will examine if the organisers adhered to the conditions for holding the ‘satsang’ and investigate the crowd control arrangements made by the district administration and police. It will also determine whether the incident was an accident, a conspiracy, or another planned criminal act.

Petitions in Supreme Court and High Court

On 3rd July, two pleas were filed in courts regarding the tragedy. One advocate filed a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking a five-member expert committee under the supervision of a retired apex court judge. Another PIL in the Allahabad High Court requested a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Despite the FIR and Adityanath’s announcement, the local administration appears to be exonerated, with the blame seemingly directed at the ‘sevadars’ managing the ‘satsang’ arrangements. The FIR alleges that organisers tried to conceal the actual number of attendees and discarded evidence, such as slippers and belongings, in nearby fields. The FIR also states that while police and administration officials acted with available resources and sent the injured to hospitals, the organisers and ‘sevadars’ did not cooperate.

According to the FIR and a preliminary report by the Sikandra Rau sub-divisional magistrate, the stampede occurred as the preacher left the venue. People rushed towards him to have a ‘darshan’ and collect soil from the spot he had walked upon, leading to a crush as ‘sevadars’ tried to manage the crowd. Many individuals slipped while descending a slope next to the highway.

Govt Response and Death Toll

The Chief Minister criticized the ‘sevadars’ for not taking victims to the hospital and claimed they fled while people were dying. Asked why the preacher was not named in the FIR, Adityanath responded that the case had been filed against those who applied for permission for the event, and responsibility would be determined through the investigation.

The government has also formed a special investigation team led by Agra’s Additional Director General of Police Anupam Kulshreshtha. The death toll rose from 116 on Tuesday to 121 on Wednesday, with 113 deceased being women, six children (five boys and one girl), and two men. Twenty-one bodies were brought to SN Medical College and Hospital in Agra for post-mortem. Causes of death included blood accumulation in the thoracic cavity due to chest injuries, asphyxia, and rib injuries, according to Chief Medical Officer Arun Srivastava.

Family members are struggling to cope with their loss. Satyendra Yadav, a taxi driver from Delhi, lost his three-year-old son Rovin and has been grappling with the tragedy. Rajkumari Devi from Unnao, mourning her sister-in-law Ruby, is also concerned about her missing five-year-old nephew.

In Bhole Baba’s native village Bahadurnagar in Kasganj district, residents do not blame him for the tragedy. They regard him as a spiritual figure who has never solicited donations or offerings.

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About the Author: Nunnem Gangte