Meerut fire: Marching orders for five

Unabated protests over lack of action against fair organisers compelled the UP Govt to transfer five key officials.

india Updated: Apr 12, 2006 21:54 IST

Unabated protests by the people of Meerut over the lack of action against organisers of a trade fair where a blaze killedat least 36 people compelled the Uttar Pradesh government on Wednesday to transfer five key officials for dereliction of duty.

Two days after the fire at the Brand India fair in Meerut ravaged a tented complex while hundreds of people were inside it, Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav gave the marching orders to District Magistrate Ram Krishna, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Rajeev Sabharwal and three other officers.

Earlier in the day, angry people, mostly college students, had ransacked the office of the district magistrate, accusing him of being hand in glove with the fair organisers who they said had failed to make adequate fire-fighting arrangements.

Amidst conflicting claims about how many had died in the blaze, the authorities have confirmed 36 deaths and put the number of injured at 118. But some officials had earlier put the death toll as high as 50-60.

While a judicial inquiry announced earlier by the chief minister is yet to take off, a meeting of the state cabinet in Lucknow on Wednesday decided to ask Meerut Commissioner Mohinder Singh to probe the incident.

Mukesh Meshram and Navneet Sikera were named as the new district magistrate and SSP respectively.

Additional district magistrate Shrish Chandra Dubey, who was removed earlier in the day, was replaced by Manvendra Singh, while Uday Shankar Jaiswal will be the new successor to Superintendent of (City) SS Yadav. An additional superintendent of police was also shunted out.

"The new team of officers is expected to reaffirm the confidence of the people," Principal Home Secretary Satish Kumar Agarwal told reporters on Wednesday evening. He was addressing a news conference with state police chief Bua Singh.

Bua Singh refuted reports about the recovery of skulls and concealment of dead bodies at Meerut.

"The skulls recovered from the Meerut Medical College premises were those used in dissections and teaching in the anatomy department of the medical college," he said.

"These had been routinely disposed off in the garbage dump of the medical college. However, in order to keep ourselves on a clean slate, we have got these examined by forensic experts to avoid any controversy," he said.

Meerut Commissioner Mohinder Singh admitted lapses on the part of the fair organisers and district officials, but he too flatly denied allegations about the fudging of the toll figure and concealment of dead bodies.

"The charge is absolutely ridiculous," Singh said.

"This is a very, very serious matter and we have full sympathy with the people whose family members are missing. We are aware of the complaints according to which there is no trace of 28 persons and we are making every possible effort to locate them."

Singh said he had detailed a magistrate and a government medical officer at each of the "17-odd hospitals where victims with burn injuries were admitted, including those in Noida, Ghaziabad and New Delhi".

However, protesters have alleged that the actual casualties are much higher and that officials are concealing the toll in what is the worst calamity witnessed in recent times in Meerut, 80 km from New Delhi.

The blaze, sparked by an electrical short-circuit on Monday evening, had engulfed three huge marquees hosting the five-day Brand India fair at the popular Victoria Park grounds.

Though the lists of dead, injured and missing were published and put up for public display, students of a college in Meerut on Wednesday gathered in large numbers to protest the failure to arrest the fair's organisers.

Though District Magistrate Ram Krishna pleaded that criminal cases had been registered against the organisers, groups of irate students ransacked his office. Krishna slipped out of his office before the students reached there.

First Published: Apr 12, 2006 19:22 IST