Several high-ranking officers were suspended by the Election Commission on recommendation of Madhya Pradesh government on Monday in connection with the Sunday's killer stampede at Ratangarh temple amid a war of words between the Congress and the BJP over the alleged lapses that led to the crush in the poll-bound state.
Those suspended include collector Sanket Bhondwe, SP CS Solanki, SDM Mahip Tejaswi and SDOP BN Basave. RK Marathe will be the new Datia SP, EC sources said.
The decision to suspend collector, SP and other officials was taken by the state government after chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan visited Datia on Monday to review the situation after Sunday's tragedy, official sources said.
The government had recommended suspension of the collector, superintendent of police, sub-divisional magistrate and sub-divisional police officer of Datia besides the entire staff of Sevdha police station. The government had to request the EC to suspend the officials because model code of conduct is in force in the state.
Before sending out the request to the EC, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced setting up of a judicial commission that will complete its probe within two months and fix responsibility for the disaster 15 days after submitting the report.
About 90 pilgrims, mostly children and women, died on Sunday, either crushed or drowned after jumping into river Sindh in desperation, while crossing the 500-metre bridge to the temple in Ratangarh in Datia district, 400km from Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal. The toll rose to 115 on Monday.
Controversy had engulfed the tragedy on Sunday. The police claimed a rumor that the bridge will collapse triggered the panic, while many people said the baton-charge by the police aggravated the situation.
The administration also came under attack for poor arrangements and policing. Madhya Pradesh health minister and Datia MLA Narottam Mishra, however, admitted "some lapses" led to the tragedy.
"Yes, there were definitely some lapses, some shortcomings that led to this heart-rending incident. I have requested the chief minister to pay attention to those," he said.
Fearing a backlash in the assembly polls in November, chief minister Shivraj Chouhan, who was heckled by a crowd when he visited the injured at a hospital, said the guilty will not be spared and said the "politics on any tragedy is unwanted".
He was responding to a scathing attack mounted by several Congress leaders who demanded his resignation.
Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken said the tragedy was "man-made" which could have been stopped. Maken claimed that cops present to maintain order in the place were collecting bribe of Rs. 200 from every tractor driver to drive into a no-entry-zone for vehicles.
Tractors were used to ferry thousands of pilgrims. Party general secretary and former state chief minister Digvijaya Singh levelled similar allegations.
BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar countered by saying the Congress was "playing politics over dead bodies".
"The need of the hour is that the Central government takes initiatives, takes all states into confidence and prepares national disaster plan on how to averse such disasters," he said.
"But instead of doing this, every Congress leader right from Kamal Nath to Jyotiraditya Scindia to Ajay Maken and Satyavrat Chaturvedi are doing politics before election. They are doing politics over dead bodies. So, this attitude of the Congress is destructive attitude. We condemn such attitude," Javadekar added.
The incident in Datia brought back memories of a similar stampede at the same place in 2006, when at least 49 devotees had died. It also put the spotlight on poor crowd-control planning by the authorities that have made stampedes a recurrent feature at religious congregations.
(With inputs from agencies)