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21 killed in stampede, Vajpayee rushes to Lucknow


Our Political Bureau  |  New Delhi/Lucknow 

Cutting short his election campaign in Jharkhand, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee rushed to his Lucknow constituency, where 11 people were killed in a stampede during distribution of sarees by senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Lalji Tandon on his birthday. Official estimates put the figure of the dead at 21.
Clearly, the Prime Minister did not want a law and order subject to become an election issue because he expressed shock and grief over the incident and extended his heartfelt sympathies to the bereaved families, Prime Minister's Office sources here said.
Vajpayee sought details of the incident from the state government. Nine women and two children were killed on the spot and scores were injured in the stampede. Lucknow commissioner DC Lakha has been asked by Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav to conduct an inquiry into the stampede.
The stampede occurred at Chandrashekhar Azad Park, where nearly 10,000 women carrying infants and children had gathered. Tandon, the Prime Minister's election agent, had left the venue before the incident took place. Eye witnesses said the stampede broke out when the organisers announced that the function was over and the women could leave after collecting sarees from a counter near the exit gate.
"Suddenly a large number of women jostled with one another to reach the distribution point and collect the birthday gift," said a shocked Komal Maurya, who was among the crowd.
District Magistrate Aradhana Sharma said though the exact cause was not known, "excitement and clamour" among the women to grab sarees could have caused the stampede. One eyewitness said the stampede occurred when one of the distributors threw a saree in the crowd. The injured have been admitted to the King George, Balrampur and Civil hospitals.
Rajiv Ranjan Verma, SSP, said permission was not taken from the authorities to organise the function. He also said action would be taken against the organisers of the function as prohibitory orders were in force in the city in view of the parliamentary polls and the administration had not been informed about it.
Denying that the stampede occurred due to mismanagement, Tandon said measures had been taken for orderly distribution of sarees.
He said it was a private function organised by his well wishers and friends to celebrate his birthday. It was unfortunate that the stampede occurred despite measures for orderly distribution of sarees, he said.
The state government has decided to give an ex-gratia of Rs 1 lakh to the kin of those killed, Rs 50,000 each to the seriously injured and Rs 25,000 to those with minor injuries and has sought the poll panel's permission to hand over the money.
Although Lucknow is likely to vote for Vajpayee without reservation, the Samajwadi Party is likely to step up hype around this event and use it to illustrate how for the masses in India, the slogan of India Shining was a myth.

First Published: Tue, April 13 2004. 00:00 IST