At least 33 people were killed and more than 50 injured on Friday in a stampede, shortly after Dussehra celebrations had ended at Gandhi Maidan in the heart of Patna.
The incident occurred around 7.05pm at Ram Ghulam Chowk in front of the southern exit of the Maidan, as a crowd of over 70,000 was leaving the venue after watching giant effigies of Ravana set ablaze.
Around 26 people were admitted at the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) with two of them seriously injured, said Patna district magistrate Manish Kumar Verma.
Eyewitnesses claimed the stampede was triggered by rumours that some people had come in contact with a live wire.
In the ensuing panic, slippers and shoes were seen strewn on a 500-metre-stretch as people tried to flee from the scene. “There was such a rush towards the exit gate that several women and children were run over,” Verma said.
Locals also blamed the absence of any lighting at the venue for the accident. “No preparation was in place to account for the mass exit by thousands of people from a single gate in darkness at the same time,” said a man present at the spot.
Angry spectators raised slogans against the administration for allegedly closing an exit near the western side of the venue for VIP movement. The Maidan has four exits but only two were used on Friday, they claimed.
The state government also announced ex-gratia of Rs 3 lakh each for the next of kin of the dead. A high level probe has been ordered, said home secretary Amir Subhani. Health secretary Deepak Kumar has been deputed at the PMCH to coordinate medical facilities.
The Centre also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased and a compensation of Rs 50,000 for critically injured.
Identity of the deceased is yet to be ascertained.
Rapid action force (RAF) team was rushed to the spot where the stampede took place and the police resorted to a mild lathi charge to disperse protestors and miscreants resorting to arson, said a TV report showing visuals of the late evening development.
A woman injured in the stampede claimed even though the stampede was triggered by rumour of a 'live wire' coming in contact with some people exiting the venue, an earlier police lathi charge to control the stampede ended up worsening the situation.
The scene at the Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH), where the injured had been admitted, was tense as the hospital had run out of medicines.
People had gathered outside the central casualty of the hospital in large number, but were unable to get any information about the dead or the injured.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences and spoke to the Bihar chief minister to enquire about the stampede.
"The stampede in Patna is deeply saddening. I spoke to the Bihar CM about the situation.My condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and prayers with the injured," he tweeted.
The stampede in Patna is deeply saddening. I spoke to the Bihar CM about the situation.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 3, 2014
My condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and prayers with the injured.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 3, 2014
Union communication minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was also critical of the lapses on part of the state government and said the government is closely monitoring the situation.
Shameful that so many ppl died in Patna from where i come from on Dusshera day. Raavan Dahan happens every year at historic Gandhi Maidan.— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) October 3, 2014
Why adequate steps were not taken? It is indeed very unfortunate. My deepest condolences with the families in this hour of grief.— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) October 3, 2014
Government of India is very closely monitoring the situation.— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) October 3, 2014
Congress President Sonia Gandhi also expressed "shock and grief" over the deaths and injuries.
"Dismayed at the unfortunate incident, Gandhi expressed the hope that the injured are being adequately attended to and conveyed her condolences to the families of those who passed away," a Congress statement said.
Union minister and Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan has sought a probe by the ministry of home affairs (MHA) into the administrative lapses, leading to the stampede.
Talking to ANI in New Delhi, he said that the MHA should seriously ponder about conducting an inquiry into today's stampede as well as the one last year during the Chhath festival. He said he would travel down to Patna on Saturday.
BJP leader CP Thakur, who visited the hospital, said: "Prima facie the stampede appears to be due to administrative lapses."
Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, in a tweet, squarely blamed the state government for administrative failure, leading to the stampede.
This is the second such tragedy in Patna in less than two years. During the Chhath festival in November 2012, 21 people had died in a similar stampede.
The Gandhi Maidan has a capacity to accommodate up to 4.5 - 5 lakh people. It is the same venue where a series of explosions took place during the Lok Sabha campaign event of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that left six dead.
(With inputs from agencies)